Veteran calls for change after airline wouldn't let pit bull service dog fly with him

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Tennessee man said he was told that his trained service dog was not allowed to fly with him on Allegiant Airlines. The reason? Norvel Adkins' service dog, Miles, is a pit bull.

Adkins, of Collierville, is a military veteran who served 32 years in the Tennessee National Guard. But he said those years of service took a toll: Today, he suffers from chronic pain, vertigo, depression and PTSD.

"Miles replaces two medications for me. He's 60 pounds of muscle and bone, but he's so gentle. He'll lean on my leg. He's a good reason I don't have a cane. He supports me, literally," Adkins said.

Adkins said Miles is a highly trained service dog and has been for about three years.

Miles was trained the Paul Oliver Foundation, a Memphis-based nonprofit that selectively interviews and trains dogs to become service animals for veterans in need.

Adkins said almost everyone is friendly, understanding and accepting of his service dog, so he was shocked to learn he was not allowed to fly with him on a recent family vacation.

“I was beside myself with the treatment we received at the ticket counter,” Adkins said.

This summer, Adkins booked a family trip from Memphis to Orlando on Allegiant Airlines. He told WHBQ that it was his first vacation since his 2013 deployment.

But according to Adkins, while Allegiant Airlines said online that they accept service animals, he said he was not provided with the fine print about their ban on pit bull breeds until after he paid for his ticket.

“I made several requests but was never given that opportunity to speak with someone on the phone. They just said this is the way it is,” Adkins said.

WHBQ reviewed more than two dozen email exchanges between Adkins, Allegiant customer service representatives and Allegiant Air Carrier Access Act compliance managers.

In an original email, an Allegiance employee told Adkins: “Effective for all travel dates after Dec. 10, 2018, Allegiant will not permit passengers traveling with pit bull-type breeds.”

That employee continued to say no exceptions would be made for Adkins.

Allegiant offered a cancellation and full refund for his ticket, but Adkins said he chose to fly anyway since he had his family with him. Even so, he told WHBQ that it was an unsettling experience.

“It’s real devastating. I try to make the comparison of a diabetic. He’s my syringe. Would you take that away from a diabetic?” Adkins said.

An Allegiant Airlines spokesperson released the following statement to WHBQ:

“Mr. Adkins was informed of our policy well in advance of his flight. When he raised objections to our policy, we offered him a full refund, but he chose to fly with us without his dog. 

"The goal of our policy is to ensure that animals, passengers and crew feel safe during flight. Unfortunately – like other carriers who have adopted similar policies before us – we’ve had feedback from customers with concerns about pit bull types of breeds, especially in close quarters during a long flight. We know a lot of this is about perception, but please understand we need to be sensitive to the concerns of all our passengers to whatever degree possible.”

Adkins said he wants to see the airline become more understanding and that he wants to see a policy change. WHBQ discovered that he may be in luck.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a ‘final statement’ regarding service dogs and airlines in hopes of clearing confusion for service dog owners, airline employees, and advocates alike.

A DOT spokesperson said the existing service animal regulation generally requires airlines to carry dogs as a species – and the regulation does not have an exception for any specific breed. They went onto explain that “airlines have not presented evidence that any particular breed is inherently more dangerous than others.”

The full release can be found here.

On Thursday, an Allegiant Airlines spokesperson told WHBQ: "As for the DOT guidance you referenced, that was recently issued, and we are in the process of reviewing it."