Broward Woman and Service Dog Unfairly Kicked Off WestJet Flight, Lawsuit Says

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Public nuisance?
Face it: The glam days of air travel are dead and buried. Now, it's $50 for that carry-on, $6.75 for water from the cart -- plus tax -- though attitude from overworked flight attendants is gratis.

According to a lawsuit filed in South Florida, one air carrier went overkill with the crummy service on a flight out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. A sick lady and her dog were treated poorly, and the entire plane had to turn around on the tarmac and return to the gate.

Barry and Melissa Adler have a beef with WestJet Airlines, a Calgary-based airline that flies to 88 destinations across the Western Hemisphere. In September 2012, the Broward couple were scheduled to catch a WestJet flight from Fort Lauderdale to Toronto.

According to their complaint, Melissa Adler suffers from a number of medical conditions, including complex regional pain syndrome, a nervous system aliment that causes constant pain. As a result, she has a service dog -- a four-pound Yorkie. Before the flight, the Adlers "provided medical documentation in order to obtain approval for travel" with the dog, the lawsuit says. WestJet in turn "provided written agreement" that they were good to fly with the pup.

But at the gate on the day of the flight, the couple were told that the head flight attendant was concerned the animal might disturb other passengers if Melissa sat in her aisle seat. The couple agreed to move. Once they boarded, Melissa took sleep medication, and soon, both she and the Yorkie were snoozing.

But as the plane headed for the runway, the head flight attendant allegedly told Barry Adler that "she was not comfortable" with the couple on the plane and that "the airplane would be returning to the gate." The Adlers, including loopy Melissa, had to exit. No explanation was provided.

"Our allegation is that the Adlers were removed from the airplane because of a disagreement over their service animal," says Nolen Klein, the couple's lawyer. "And I think it is incredible if a flight attendant was able to unilaterally decide to remove passengers from the flight."

That night, WestJet called to apologize and arranged for the couple to catch a flight the next day. Eventually, the Adlers filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which later found that WestJet had violated seven federal laws.

In late December, the couple filed a federal lawsuit against the airline based on claims of negligence and fraudulent representation. The case is still grinding through the legal system.

"We don't make public comments on court proceedings," WestJet's Robert Palmer told New Times in an email. "We speak through the documents we file and of course, during the proceedings themselves."

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My Voice Nation Help

They should have put her, along with that rat of a dog in the cargo hold.

Sam Smith
Sam Smith

Hard to know, but there are tons of people who are faking service dogs so they can bring their purse pups with them everywhere. I see it in Publix at least twice a month. Unfortunately, these fakers make it harder for real service dogs and the people they serve. I actually think there should be a universal rule as to what is a service dog and they should be licensed and folks should have to show license to bring dogs where they are not otherwise permitted. There are sanitary and allergy issues for the rest of us.

KennyPowersII topcommenter

What "service" does a dog provide for pain management?

New Times Broward Palm Beach
New Times Broward Palm Beach

I think the use of service dogs extends beyond just blindness and deafness (PTSD for example), but I'm sure there are plenty of people out to take advantage of the system, Jonathan.


Yeah, I'm SO sure this is the whole story.

Jonathan Whittaker
Jonathan Whittaker

On the flip side, a lot of people take advantage of using service dogs in order to bring their dog everywhere. You see it all the time in Boca, people bringing their dogs into restaurants and stores like the rules don't apply to them. I know someone who went to their Dr. to get their dog registered as an "emotional stability animal" so they don't have to pay their apartment pet fees. If you're not blind or deaf, you really don't need a service dog IMO.

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