American Airlines Refuses American Hero Service Dog Award Winner

service dog Axel and Jason Haag

American Airlines employees at Los Angeles International Airport did something decidedly un-American earlier this week.

As Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Capt. Jason Haag waited to board a flight home to Virginia Sept. 20 with his wife and his service dog, Axel — who been honored the night before at the American Humane Association 2015 American Hero Dog Awards as the Service Dog category winner — they were asked by American Airlines staff to step out of the line.

His family was not allowed to board the plane “due to us not being able to prove that Axel is a service dog,” the retired Marine wrote on the Jason and Axel Facebook page.

Haag, who had a traumatic brain injury and suffers from PTSD, met Axel through the nonprofit K9s for Warriors when the German Shepherd was a week away from being euthanized. Axel was sleeping on a shelter floor “and I was sleeping in my basement with a gun under my pillow,” Haag said on the Hero Dog Awards website. “Now I share a bed with a big and furry security blanket. And he’s a heck of a lot softer.”

The American Airlines gate agent who pulled him out of the line asked Haag if Axel was a real service dog.

“I just find that question kind of odd because nobody at the airport has asked me that, and I fly all the time,” Haag told ABC News. “I said, ‘Yes.'”

The agent then asked Haag about his disability, a “question that you’re not allowed to ask,” Haag said. The next question, also illegal, was whether Haag had paperwork for Axel, which he did not.

That’s right, the Service Dog of the Year and his family were denied access to the flight because Haag didn’t have documentation proving Axel was, in fact, a service dog.

“I didn’t provide ‘paperwork’ because 1) it’s illegal to ask for and against federal law; 2) I don’t carry it because I’ve never had issue; 3) I called ahead and everything was fine; 4) but I did provide an ID to try and appease them,” Haag wrote on Facebook.

The gate agent said his ID was fake, Haag told ABC News.

According to American Airlines’ service animal policy, an authorization form must be submitted 48 hours before the flight — not at the boarding gate. Haag submitted the form eight days prior to flying to Los Angeles.

“They had my wife in tears in front of 200 people as they brought more managers over to try and bully us,” he wrote on Facebook.

An American Airlines manager told him to come back to the airport with paperwork. Haag, his wife and Axel spent the night at a Los Angeles hotel and were finally able to fly home the next day.

“We have apologized to both Capt. Haag and his family for the confusion with Sunday’s travel plans,” American Airlines said in a statement Sept. 21. “American has a long and proud history of serving our military members, and hold the men and women who serve our country in the highest regard.”

That’s nice, but the incident shouldn’t have happened in the first place. And Haag doesn’t want it to happen again to anyone with a service animal.

“The best thing that can come out of this is we need to pass something to make a national registration and national certification process for service dogs,” he told ABC News.

Photo via Facebook

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Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!