A Toronto woman who has an emotional support dog says she is furious after claiming she was removed from an Air Canada flight destined for Palm Springs, Calif., because some passengers complained about allergies.
Marilyn Borchiver, who has fibromyalgia, told Global News she tried to fly to the United States on Wednesday from Toronto Pearson International Airport.
She said she spoke with Air Canada staff responsible for passengers with medical needs and presented documentation (immunization records and a letter from a psychotherapist) about the need to travel with Scooter, her beloved Sheltie.
After Borchiver said she encountered problems getting to her gate, she became involved in a dispute with at least one passenger, she said.
“There were at least three comments about being allergic to dogs,” Borchiver said, adding it made her upset.
“I said, ‘Well then I am allergic to you.'”
She said she was subsequently asked to leave the aircraft. After refusing, Borchiver said police officers were contacted and they came to remove her from the aircraft.
“I was treated like a disgusting human being,” she said.
A Peel Regional Police spokesperson told Global News that Borchiver was removed at the request of airline staff. Police said there wasn’t an offence and that there was no additional involvement by officers, calling the matter a customer service issue.
Global News contacted Air Canada to ask about the situation described by Borchiver. A spokesperson confirmed in a brief statement on Thursday that “a disruptive customer” was removed from the airline’s flight to Palm Springs.
“The decision was not related to the presence of an emotional support animal,” Peter Fitzpatrick wrote.
“The matter was handled according to our regular processes.”
Fitzpatrick didn’t elaborate on how Borchiver was being “disruptive.”
When asked about the situation as described by Borchiver, Gábor Lukács, founder of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said he believes Air Canada should ultimately be liable for the situation, since they asked her to be removed from the aircraft.
“Something fundamentally went wrong here,” he said.
Under the latest version of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, it states once onboard an aircraft, a person cannot be removed unless it is for safety reasons. Lukács said someone being rude doesn’t fall under that provision.
“The airline doesn’t have to please other passengers — it has to satisfy the law,” he said.
However, the law isn’t necessarily clear when it comes to service animals. There are different regulations for emotional support animals in each province — an issue brought up in July by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who called for a federal solution.
To date, service animal regulations remain under provincial jurisdiction (except when it comes to air transportation, which falls under federal jurisdiction).
Lukács said when it comes to a situation involving dogs and allergies, there are conflicting impositions of people’s human rights — for Borchiver, who said she requires a support dog, and for those who said they have allergies.
Both sides, he said, have valid concerns, as long as the conditions were communicated to the airline in a timely manner.
“The airline was acting in a completely capricious way without documentation of the person’s allergy and without giving priority to the passenger who had complied with all the legal requirements for the accommodation of the disability, and this passenger gave sufficient notice,” Lukács said.
In this scenario, he said, Air Canada would be required to accommodate both parties with alternative flights. But Lukács noted Borchiver should have had first travel priority if the other person or persons didn’t tell Air Canada they had an allergy to dogs.
“If they had both advised the airline 48 hours in advance about the situation … the airline would be required to deal with the situation and talk to both of them and rebook them in advance,” he said, noting it shouldn’t happen at the airport gate.
Meanwhile, Borchiver said she is slated to board another Air Canada flight on Friday, but was waiting for confirmation she will indeed be able to fly to Palm Springs.
She said she is contemplating legal action and filing a complaint with authorities.
— With files from Jamie Mauracher