Passengers Rally Around Man Kicked off Plane with Guide Dog

NEW YORK — Usually airline passengers side with flight attendants when it comes to safety, but in the case of a US Airways flight Wednesday night, passengers rallied around a blind man and his guide dog and disembarked en masse.

All 35 passengers on US Airways Flight 4384 walked off the plane after Albert Rizzi, a blind man from Long Island, and his dog, Doxy, were escorted off the flight after a heated exchange between Rizzi and a flight attendant about where his dog was placed, according to Rizzi.

Although he was first to arrive on the tarmac for the flight from Philadelphia International Airport to MacArthur Airport on Long Island, Rizzi said he and his dog were the last to be seated on the small plane. He was seated in the middle of the back row looking onto the aisle with no seat in front of him for Doxy to lay under.

Shortly after boarding, Rizzi said a flight attendant told him the dog would need to go under a seat for safety reasons.

Several passengers in Rizzi’s row offered to have the dog lay under their seats, and he was placed under the seat of the woman to his left, according to Rizzi.

The plane was then delayed nearly two hours. While the plane was sitting on the runway, Doxy got up to reposition himself a few times, ending up under Rizzi’s seat against the back of the plane, Rizzi said.

The flight attendant asked Rizzi to control his dog and keep him underneath his neighbor’s seat, according to Rizzi. After a heated exchange between Rizzi and the flight attendant, the pilot announced the plane would be returning to the gate, Rizzi said.

Rizzi and his dog were then escorted off the plane by airport security, according to Rizzi.

After Rizzi and Doxy were removed from the plane, passengers demanded that the flight attendant be removed from the plane and Rizzi let back on, said passenger Kurt Budke. He said that all 35 passengers banded together in support of Rizzi, and after realizing the passengers would not budge, the pilot announced the flight was canceled.

If the flight attendant had tried to make alternate accommodations for Rizzi, Budke believes that the situation could have been avoided completely.

“US Airways is sorry for the inconvenience, and we are looking into the situation to see if it was handled properly,” US Airways spokeswoman Liz Landau said Thursday. She added that the pilot and the flight crew elected to return to the gate due to the safety concerns caused by the actions of the dog and said Rizzi was verbally abusive to the flight attendant.

Landau said that the pilot and flight crew didn’t feel that it was safe to operate the flight after seeing how upset the customers were at the incident and said that the pilot asked everyone to disembark once it reached the gate.

US Airways then provided free buses from the Philadelphia airport to the Long Island airport, Landau said.

“This became the most wonderful experience, out of the most horrible experience. I found that humanity does exist, and people can do the right thing,” Rizzi said, referring to the actions of his fellow passengers.

Rizzi said he has not been contacted by US Airways since the incident and is considering legal action.

“They picked the wrong guy to mess with,” Rizzi said. He is active in the blind community and sits on the disability advisory board for Suffolk County, where he resides.

Rizzi became blind eight years ago after surviving meningitis and has had Doxy for seven years. Rizzi said Doxy is short for Doxology, meaning “praise to God” and “a new beginning.” When they were matched seven years ago, Doxy was just beginning his service as a guide dog and Rizzi was just beginning his life as a blind man.

8 comments

  • Sherri Fitzpatrick

    I will never fly USAir or American, now that they are merging. I used to work at an airport. USAir should take lessons from Southwest Airlines, who have the very best customer service and on-time departures and arrivals. I feel sorry for the poor dog. If I had to wait for two hours for the plane to depart, I would have had to reposition myself as well. The plane returned to the gate “due to the safety concerns caused by the actions of the dog”?!?! Give me a break!!!

  • Sue

    Absolutely agree with the fact that ALL passengers stood behind him and his dog for support! Yes!! I would be moving around too after waiting for 2 hrs. This woman and all in charge was wrong. They inconvenienced everyone but still the passengers agreed with Rizzi and Doxy. Ha! Ha! Give the good people free tickets as a replacement and an apology. Rizzi-give U S Air a lawsuit they will never forget!

  • Christine Zymowski

    I cannot believe that a person with a disability was made to wait till last to board, and what US Air did was unforgivable. I agree with the passengers and they did the right thing.

  • lukebandit

    Rizzi and Doxy were supposed to be loaded first, with people with disabilities and small children. THEY ALL GO FIRST. Also, They are suppose to be near the exit door. USAir, I also hope you get the lawsuit you will never forget. Remember, United breaks guitars! check the hilarious true story video on youtube. United broke his Taylor guitar worth 3500 and refused to pay for it to be repaired. The baggage people were tossing them at each other and dropping them on the ground, witnessed from the plane! The video is hilarious!

  • ann Pederson

    way to go passengers!! You got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. So glad we still have Real people in this country.

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