On June 13, Jim Stanek, co-founder of Paws and Stripes, and a veteran of 3 tours in Iraq began a journey at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport on his way home to New Mexico. Little did he know that it would take him 3 days and cost him untold agony by the unconscionable actions of multiple United Airlines employees. Jim has PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is mitigated by his service dog, Sarge.
During his ordeal, Sarge was KICKED twice by two separate United Airlines employees, the second time hard enough to lift her off the ground and into his lap. Additionally, shortly after explaining to a gate agent that he had a traumatic brain injury and was unable to – at that moment- read the information on his cell phone screen, Jim was asked if he was retarded. As you might imagine, the abuse escalated Jim’s discomfort and the symptoms of his disability. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine anyone experiencing this behavior without becoming increasingly agitated and angry.
Sadly, this is not the only incidence of United Airlines employees acting badly around disabled travelers. Dozens of people have shared on social media sites their own experiences with name calling, anger, and inappropriate actions towards their service dogs. In one instance, gate agents yelled at a passenger that they hoped she would never travel on their airline again.
Jim and Lindsey Stanek want to educate and raise awareness about the role of service dogs for individuals whose disabilities are not readily apparent to others. They have given us permission to share their story and through this petition, seek the public support and pressure that will capture United Airlines attention and effect change in their staff training policies.
I’m Sue Kindred, President of Service Dog 411, and together with my colleagues Dee Bogetti, service dog trainer, and Terry Griffith, founder of Dogs for Veterans, we are committed to ensuring that this story does not become yesterday’s news. It is imperative that we come together as a collective voice for reason, education, understanding and fair treatment of people with service dogs.
We seek the following actions from United Airlines:
1) Acknowledge the inappropriate and insensitive behavior of United personnel as experienced by disabled travelers, particularly those traveling with a service dog.
2) Issue a public apology to Jim Stanek, co-founder of Paws and Stripes, for his experience in traveling on United Airlines through Dulles Airport on June 13-17.
3) Change the corporate training policy for all United Airlines employees to include mandated sensitivity and cultural diversity training. Additionally, United should include training specific to the role of service dogs for individuals with invisible disabilities such as post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, and seizure disorders.