A disabled Army veteran said he was kicked off a plane in Miami for having his service dog, Bella, with him. Kevin Crowell said he was heading to Key West for a Wounded Warrior Project event with his family when he was left upset and embarrassed.
It's a bond unlike any other. Bella and Kevin have been together through military banquets, award ceremonies, and even graduations.
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Bella came into Kevin's life after he served nearly 20 years in the Army. He says he saw countless hours of combat and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"[People] have no idea that part of my spine was replaced [after injuries] from roadside bombs. They don't have an idea that my shoulder was destroyed in Iraq," Crowell said. "So now I rely on her for a lot of things, and often times, I physically lean on her to help me through the day."
Crowell said before that trip, American Airlines staffers told him Bella could fly with him in the bulkhead area, the seats with more leg room, as long as it is not in the emergency exit section.
Instead, he said airline personnel stopped them before they could board in Miami.
"The flight attendant told me, she said, 'The policy states no pets in bulk heading,' and I said, 'Again, Bella's not a pet, she's a service dog. According to the law, she meets the requirements of a service dog," Crowell said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 guarantees that service animals can travel with their owners, given they meet certain criteria.
But Crowell said workers asked the group to get off the plane.
"I was beyond humiliated," Crowell said. "My wife and I had to walk back down the jetway past all the other passengers in complete, just, humiliation."
"This is a medical issue that you're violating," said Kevin's wife, Lisa Crowell. "You're hurting someone and you don't understand that."
The family said they rented a car and returned to Jacksonville, at their own expense.
Lisa Crowell called American Airlines and spoke to a representative who said she is looking into the case and will go over training practices with the Miami staff.
American Airlines tells Action News they have offered to refund the Crowell family the cost of the trip.
"I didn't join the military in the '80s and retire in 2013 to be discriminated against, especially in the United States," Crowell said.
The WWP paid for Crowell's travel expenses, so he doesn't want money or a free flight. He said wants not only the airlines, but everyone to realize that soldiers are coming home from combat every day, some disabled physically and mentally, and many will need service dogs.