System Abuses Make Booking a Flight With a Service Dog a Frustrating Ordeal

A woman who travels with a service dog says booking flights has become unnecessarily tedious. Alesia Fieldberg has her story

Ryan White , Reporter/Producer
@CTVRyanWhite
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Published Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Vancouver Island resident who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) says WestJet’s current booking procedure places additional stress on some passengers who require accessible travel.

Joanne Trofanenko, a former paramedic, travels with her service dog Linka at her side. During the booking of five recent flights, Trofanenko says she has spent, on average, two hours on the phone with WestJet staff attempting to correct misunderstandings related to Linka’s role.

“They’re making an assumption that it’s an emotional support dog and their criteria to accept an emotional support dog is the medical documentation,” explained Trofanenko. “They’re not accepting my word when I say I have a licensed certified service dog and that’s what they need to start recognizing.”

The former paramedic says the airline has always accommodated Linka but she wants WestJet to create a long-term solution to remove the hurdles for passengers booking flights with licensed, certified service dogs.

“I want to be able to move through the world like I used to be able to when I got hurt. Something as simple as booking a flight has become a barrier and it shouldn’t be that hard.”

Service dog experts say abuses of the service dog system, including the fraudulent use of service vests to allow animals into the cabin of an aircraft or to allow an animal to fly for free, are well-known and have contributed to the booking issue Trofanenko currently faces.

“Fraudulent dogs are a big issue,” said Bill Thornton, CEO of B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs. “We’ve got where we are in the service dog industry through gaining the public’s trust and we don’t want it messed up with people who don’t have dogs who behave well.”

Trofanenko believes there is a simple solution to the problem.

“I am happy to provide my I.D. when I board a plane and her (Linka’s) I.D. when I board a plane. That should be enough.”

WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart says airline officials have been unsuccessful in their attempts to contact Trofanenko to discuss her frustrations.

“We suspect this is a case of misunderstanding and that we will be able to clear up the issue very quickly once we’ve had a chance to speak,” said Stewart in a statement emailed to CTV Calgary.

“We definitely want Joanne, and anyone travelling with a service animal, to feel welcome on board and aim to make travelling with WestJet a caring, stress-free experience. We will continue to try and speak with her to get this issue resolved as soon as possible.”

With files from CTV’s Alesia Fieldberg

Reproduced from http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/system-abuses-make-booking-a-flight-with-a-service-dog-a-frustrating-ordeal-1.2900134