An Air Transat passenger has been stranded in Toronto for three days after she says she was denied boarding on her flight back to the U.K. because of her service dog, Oscar.
“This whole experience has made me feel like my life is… less than,” said Delia Marinceu, who has was in Toronto to see her oncologist.
The 36-year-old, who is doing her medical residency in the U.K., is currently in remission for stage 3 colorectal cancer and suffers from PTSD and anxiety as a result of the diagnosis.
Oscar, a black lab, helps her cope with the disability.
READ MORE: Toronto woman says she was kicked off Air Canada flight due to complaints about support dog
“I am young and I understand I don’t have a visible disability but (Oscar) does have a purpose. He isn’t there just for fun,” she said, adding the eight-month-old dog has gone through special training to become her assistance animal. “He is prepped and trained for this. He isn’t a random dog.”
On Monday, Marinceu was supposed to board flight TS122 back to Gatwick, London. Delayed, she says the captain and flight director came out to speak with her. One of them attempted to pet Oscar.
“My dog pulled away and barked, which is what he is supposed to do,” Marinceu explained, adding he was wearing a service vest indicating he should not be touched. “That’s when I was told, Oscar is ‘too big and too noisy to come on the plane'”.
Marinceu said she attempted to show staff her Air Transat letter of approval for the assistance animal but claims no one would look at the email.
Under Air Transat’s rules and regulations, a person travelling with a service animal should contact the airline more than 48 hours before a flight and even more if heading to the U.K.
Marinceu began making arrangements in November.
In a letter to Marinceu from a Transat representative, dated Dec. 17, 2019, her request was approved, “you have the authorization to bring your Assistance dog free of charge in the cabin on the flight below:
24-DEC-2019 to 13-JAN-2020
But on her outbound flight, she says staff seemed irked Oscar was on board and on Dec. 30, Air Transat contacted her with concerns about the lab’s behaviour, “your assistance dog seemed to be very nervous and agitated, and was barking throughout the flight,” the company wrote in an email, asking for proof of his training.
“That was ridiculous,” Marinceu told Global News, adding the passenger next to the pair was an assistance dog trainer specializing in Labradors, “they commented on how well (Oscar) did for his first flight.”
Satisfied with the training documents, Air Transat approved Oscar and Marinceu’s return trip.
But on Monday, after being denied, she said, no one would talk to her, adding she had to wait until Tuesday for a response from the airline.
“When I called the next day the report said the dog tried to bite the flight director. That is a blatant lie.”
On Wednesday, Global News contacted Air Transat for comment. It did not respond to numerous attempts.
In the meantime, late that day, Marinceu received another email from the airline, claiming she had been turned away because Oscar was acting out.
“The reports from our ground boarding Supervisor, the Flight Director and the Captain confirm that upon approaching you to discuss, they observed many behaviours from the animal that led them to the decision to not allow boarding (jumping, barking, growling, attempt to bite, not obeying commands, etc),” it read in part,” As such, we support our team’s decision to deny carriage to the animal on this flight and on future flights unless an appropriate level of training and behaviour is demonstrated.”
Under Canadian Transportation Agency rules, carriers can deny carriage to animals that act out, however personnel should “speak with the passenger about mitigating the problem and give the passenger the opportunity, within a reasonable amount of time, to correct the inappropriate behaviour of the animal.’
READ MORE: Guide dog owners call for national standard to regulate service animal training, ownership
Global News has reached out to Pearson airport to see if it has video to validate the report of behavioral issues. In an email, it said it has “no info on the incident or what the dog may have been doing.”
According to one passenger rights advocate, the situation isn’t sitting right.
“Air Transat is very clearly violating her rights. The dog is approved. It is trained. It seems as if they are concocting a story to cover up what was a poor decision,” said airline passenger advocate Gabor Lukács. “This is a serious violation of human rights.”
Under the law, persons with disabilities are protected, however, rules and regulations around emotional support animals can differ province to province.
It was 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).
For Marinceu, the situation, she said, has left her in a state of stress.
“I had a panic attack. I am filled with anxiety over this,” she said, explaining the situation also has her missing her medical training.
“I feel I have been discriminated against because you can’t tell I have a disability. Do they look at me and think, ‘oh she looks fine, is she just trying to sneak a dog on a plane’?”
In addition to missing out on her residency, Marinceu said Oscar will now also need to see a veterinarian for the second time, explaining U.K. regulations require he receive certain treatments within five days of flying and have since expired.
“Before booking (Air Transat) said (it) had experience with having dogs on board, but it was obvious they didn’t,” Marinceu said.
“They didn’t respect his vest … and it seemed like they were annoyed by him. They wanted him to be a stuffed animal in the corner.”
Lukács said at the very least, Marinceu should get a formal apology and be compensated for her expenses.
Meanwhile, Marinceu agreed and hopes to get back to London, with her service dog, as soon as possible.
Air Transat told Marinceu she can file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency.