U.S. Airways Passengers Rally Around Blind Man Booted Off Flight

Flight canceled after blind man's run-in with flight attendant.

ByABC News
November 14, 2013, 12:33 PM

Nov. 14, 2013— -- A blind man was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight Wednesday evening after a squabble with a flight attendant over restraining his guide dog. The airline's action so infuriated the 35 or so other passengers that the flight had to be canceled.

Forty-nine-year-old Albert Rizzi, who told ABCNews.com that he flies every month and can't travel without his guide dog, said this is the second time in six months that he's had a problem on a U.S. Airways flight.

"The flight attendant wanted me to put my dog under the seat, and I did the best I could. A passenger even sat Indian style to make room for my dog Doxy," he said.

During the fracas, Rizzi said his fellow passengers "raised a ruckus" to express their displeasure with the way the flight attendant had treated him.

After he was escorted off the plane, Rizzi said he was "livid," standing in the Philadelphia terminal alone waiting for his bag, which had been checked, not knowing how he would make it home to New York's Long Island. Shortly after, the other passengers marched into the terminal to join Rizzi in a show of support.

"I felt validated. We had made a statement together," Rizzi said.

The Bellport, N.Y., resident said he felt humbled by the actions of his new friends, who all boarded a bus together, chartered by U.S. Airways, to take them on a four-hour ride to their final destination, Long Island's MacArthur Airport.

The bus arrived at the Long Island airport at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, more than five hours after the flight's scheduled arrival time.

U.S. Airways spokesperson Liz Landau told ABCNews.com that Rizzi's service animal was moving around and couldn't be controlled.

"When the flight attendant reminded the passenger that the animal needed to be seated in one specific place to ensure the safety of the flight, he became disruptive," she said.

Passenger Kurt Budke, who drove Rizzi home once they arrived in Long Island, told a different story.

"The training of the dog was amazing. To say this dog couldn't be controlled is false. This dog was more controlled than the people onboard," he said.

Budke said Rizzi's dog stretched at one point, but wasn't moving around and stayed at Rizzi's feet, which is the required location for service dogs while in flight.

U.S. Airways said flight attendants are trained to handle customers with disabilities, and the airline does everything it can to ensure all passengers are treated with dignity and respect.

Rizzi, who has been legally blind for eight years, says the U.S. Airways employees on the ground in Philadelphia showed him great respect, he just wishes the flight attendant could have been more understanding.

"I want to educate U.S. Airways on how their staff can better support blind passengers. That dog has to be with me. It's as if you were asking someone with a prosthetic or a wheelchair to leave that at the door," said Rizzi.