By Matt Pearce
1:28 AM EST, November 15, 2013
A U.S. Airways flight was canceled after passengers protested that a blind man and his seeing-eye dog had been kicked off Wednesday evening, according to the airline and local media reports.
Albert Rizzi, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., said the trouble began after he boarded the flight from Philadelphia to Long Island’s MacArthur Airport and the seat in front of his didn't have stowage space for his guide dog, Doxy.
A flight attendant insisted that Doxy stay under a seat, and other passengers offered their spaces. But after the plane spent more than an hour on the tarmac waiting to take off, Doxy curled up under Rizzi's legs, he told WPVI-TV. He then got in another argument with a flight attendant.
"Mr. Rizzi became disruptive and refused to comply with crew member instructions when the flight attendant asked him to secure his service dog at his feet," U.S. Airways said in a statement to Philadelphia's WPVI-TV. The airline did not respond to a request for comment from the Los Angeles Times.
“I took offense to that," Rizzi told WINS radio. “My dog is not to be stowed, he’s not an inanimate object. This woman just did not want to understand that sitting on a plane for an hour and a half for any human is uncomfortable. The dog was just antsy and wanted to get comfortable.”
The airline said Rizzi's behavior became "disruptive," at which point the crew removed Rizzi and Doxy from the flight.
Then other passengers got upset.
blind man and his dog just got kicked off @USAirways after we've been on the tarmac an hour, bc dog wiggled a bit. Whole plane outraged.— Sophie B (@sophie_ba) November 14, 2013
@USAirways passengers name is Albert rizzi. The entire plane is witness to how nice, polite and accommodating he and his dog were.— Sophie B (@sophie_ba) November 14, 2013
"When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were like, 'Why is this happening? He's not a problem. What is going on?' " passenger Frank Ohlhorst told WPVI-TV. "And we all kind of raised our voices and said, 'This is a real problem.' The captain came out of the cockpit and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft."
U.S. Airways, which said it was investigating the incident, canceled the flight and took Rizzi, Doxy and the passengers to Long Island by bus.
That gave Rizzi some solace.
"These people, all of them, got on a bus and drove 3 1/2 hours from Philadelphia," he told WPVI-TV. "They could have stayed on the plane, but they chose not to. I'm so humbled."
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