A trip to Stockholm on Canada Day for two blind Toronto women ended up a “humiliating” experience — reduced to tears, booted from their flight at Pearson and escorted out by police – because a flight crew insisted their guide dogs needed to be muzzled.
Amal Haddad and Nayla Farrah — who were flying with the Farrah’s 11-year-old daughter — did not have muzzles for the dogs. They don’t even own them.
“We travel every year and that was the first time the stewardess asked us to muzzle our dogs,” Haddad, a civil servant, said.
“We did it with Air France; we did it with Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, WestJet, Middle East Airlines … Lufthansa,” she said.
But on Wednesday Haddad and Farrah were flying Jet Airways to Sweden via Brussels.
Once they boarded the plane a flight attendant said there was an issue with the dogs.
“There was no common ground for communications — either you muzzle or you leave the plane,” said Haddad.
The two refused and police were called, though Haddad said the officers were only “mirroring” the airline’s stance.
“A policeman tells two ladies … ‘You evacuate now or we put handcuffs on you’ — because we didn’t have muzzles?” she said.
Haddad said the airline scheduled them for another flight the next day and paid for their stay that night at the airport hotel.
That flight, though, was with a different airline, Austrian Airlines, which Haddad said is she “99.9 per cent” sure will not force dogs, Nina and E.V., to be muzzled.
A Peel Regional Police spokesman said a flight’s captain has “final authority” over who flies, and officers were on scene only “for the purposes of keeping the peace.”
Transport Canada spokeswoman Roxane Marchand said the agency itself does not require service animals to be muzzled, but encouraged passengers to check their carrier’s individual policies before flying.
“As a rule of thumb, the animal can remain with you in the aircraft cabin provided it has been trained by a professional service animal institution to assist a person, is properly harnessed and remains under your control,” Marchand said.
Nina and E.V. had those harnesses and Haddad said they were both trained.
Whether Haddad’s experience was a one-off incident or the result of Jet Airways’ service animal policy is yet unclear.
Haddad said she planned the trip more than six months ago, looking up the airline’s policy and getting a representative to guide her through the website. According to Haddad, nowhere did it say that guide dogs have to be muzzled.
“Once we’re back, we’re filing a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency,” she said.
Jet Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.