Philly-to-MacArthur passengers revolt over treatment of blind man

Matt Kozar reports
November 14, 2013 2:45:08 PM PST
Airline passengers in Philadelphia came together in a show of support for a legally blind man who they believe was mistreated by a flight attendant.

The incident happened aboard a U.S. Airways Express flight to MacArthur Airport on Long Island Wednesday evening.

The issue was over the Albert Rizzi's guide dog, which the airline says was out of control.

With passengers refusing to fly if Rizzi couldn't get on the plane, the flight was canceled and the passengers bused to Long Island by the airline.

The passengers say the flight attendant would not let the plane leave without the guide dog going under the plane's seat, which they helped him do. But after waiting on the tarmac for more than an hour and a half, the dog began to get restless.

That's when the flight attendant kicked the man and his dog off the flight.

"The lady comes back and gets very insistent, and I said, 'Look, I don't understand what you want me to do.' I said, 'He's as best as he can, he's where he needs to be,'" Rizzi said. "And I hear nobody else moving, and as I'm walking to the front, I'm like wait a second, why am I the only one getting off?"

In a show of support, passengers came to Rizzi's defense, saying he did nothing wrong and that it was the flight attendant with the problem.

"She came back and said to him, 'You've got about a minute to get this straightened out,'" one passenger said. "And he tried to do whatever he could, and she went back to the front of the plane. We were taxiing like we were going to take off. And at that point in time, we're about to take off, and all the sudden the captain gets on the PA and says we have to head back to the terminal...We were all kind of raised our voices and said this is a real problem. So the captain winds up coming out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft."

Passengers say the attendant was unwilling to compromise and that there were open seats and other options for Rizzi and his dog. Officials at U.S. Airways say Rizzi got verbally abusive.

US Airways officials say the crew's safety was a factor and that they have training for guide dog procedures. They are investigating the incident.

The bused passengers arrived on Long Island around 2:30 a.m. Those who didn't get on the bus spent the night in Philadelphia and will figure out their travel plans later.