Virgin Atlantic has vowed to remind staff about its policy regarding service animals after a disabled California woman says she was denied entry to the airline's waiting lounge because of her dog.
Micaela Bensko, who is handicapped due to chronic pain issues following a 2011 car accident, told Fox News that she and her dog, Blue Belle, were blocked from using Virgin's Clubhouse lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday.
She said that despite having documentation for Blue Belle and paying extra to use the lounge, staff further requested that she produce a doctor's note to justify the dog's being there.
"I paid $75 to use that lounge ... they even printed me a special ticket [to get in]," she told Fox.
After being denied access to the lounge, Ms. Bensko whipped out her cellphone camera and starting recording.
"It is a federal law that [Blue Belle] does not need a letter," Ms. Bensko is heard telling staff in a video she posted Wednesday on YouTube. "She performs a service for me. I cannot get around without her because my neck is compromised."
"In some places, you're not even allowed to ask which services she performs for me," she added. "It's a private matter."
Ms. Bensko, who can't sit upright for extended periods of time, then tearfully informs a staff member that she is suffering from excruciating pain and needs to lie down, which is why she purchased the ticket to access the lounge.
"This is what's wrong today with the airlines, with everything that's going on, the common sense is gone with customer service," she said, crying. "I'm sorry, but where's the common sense anymore?"
Ms. Bensko begged the staff member to let her lie down while they wait for a supervisor to arrive, but the staff member said no.
"I physically cannot sit here," Ms. Bensko said.
Blue Belle can be heard whimpering in the background.
"I'm in too much pain, I'm sorry. I can't wait here any longer. You guys are unbelievable," Ms. Bensko said before leaving.
She later filmed herself laying on the concrete floor of her flight terminal.
"I'm devastated," she said. "I know a lot of people are doing videos now about airline stuff, but this just hits home for so many people, because we go through so much stuff already.
"I just wish the airlines would wake up. We're people and we're human," she added.
Virgin Atlantic requires passengers traveling with service dogs to provide an identification card, a harness, or give a credible verbal statement. Emotional support animals, however, require further documentation, such as a doctor's note, Fox reported.
"As soon as we were made aware of this incident, we sent an urgent reminder to our Clubhouse teams to clarify the policy around support dogs, and will be investigating further to improve the way the situation was handled," Virgin Atlantic said in a statement, a local CBS affiliate reported.
"It is never our intention to disappoint our customers, and we're keen to speak directly with the customer to understand what improvements we can make to ensure this doesn't happen again, and to offer our heartfelt apologies," the airline said.
Ms. Bensko told Fox News that her grievance "goes so far beyond anything that can be managed by a phone call."
"My main issue with this, and what I constantly encounter with service ... there's just no training as to the laws, the federal laws, mandated by our government between service animals and emotional support animals," she said.
She told CBS that all she wants is for airlines to "bring humanity back to traveling."