Blind man, guide dog booted from US Airways flight to LI

Albert J. Rizzi of Bellport said he was discriminated against Wednesday night, when he and his guide dog were removed from a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Videojournalist: Stringer News (Nov. 14, 2013)

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A legally blind Bellport man was removed from a US Airways flight bound for Long Island following a dispute with an attendant over his guide dog -- sparking protests from sympathetic passengers who were also ordered off the plane.

The tumult on the tarmac started after Albert Rizzi, 49, and his dog boarded a Wednesday night flight in Philadelphia bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Rizzi, who serves on the Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board, said Thursday that he was discriminated against because the airline failed to accommodate his dog, a yellow Labrador retriever.

"There are plenty of blind people . . . who don't have the ability to stand up for themselves, to fight for themselves," he said. "If I allow myself to be beaten down, then I allow people who come behind me to be beaten down."

US Airways spokeswoman Liz Landau said Rizzi was removed -- and the flight later canceled -- after he became "verbally abusive" with the unnamed attendant.

"Mr. Rizzi became disruptive and refused to comply with crew member instructions when the flight attendant asked him to secure his service dog at his feet," the airline said in a statement. "As a result of his disruptive behavior, the crew returned to the gate and removed Mr. Rizzi and his service dog from the flight."

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But Rizzi said his last-row seat aboard the de Havilland Dash-8 turboprop plane had no under-seat area, and his request to move to an open seat was ignored.

He said his dog, Doxy, was first placed under the seat of a nearby passenger, but when Flight 4384 experienced a departure delay of more than 1 1/2 hours, the dog wandered out to the aisle -- and lay on the floor with his head under Rizzi's legs.

Rizzi said the attendant told him curtly about 9:45 p.m. that the dog needed to be "stowed."

Rizzi admits he objected to the word "stowed," but said he calmly told her the dog had no proper place to stay. "I said, 'We're not going to get to the point where you tell me I'm being argumentative, so you can throw me off the plane.' "

A fellow passenger, Carl Beiner of Islip, said Rizzi didn't cause a disturbance.

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"He was doing the best he could," Beiner said.

Another passenger, Vern Hackworth of Brookhaven, said Rizzi shouldn't have been removed.

"I was quite upset last night," he said. "There was no reason this man should ever have been kicked off the plane, and I don't know what was going on with the flight attendant."

Landau said she hadn't heard of Rizzi's request for a different seat, but noted that such a switch would make sense given the circumstances.

After Rizzi was ordered off, Beiner said he and the 32 other passengers were asked to leave after some complained to the attendant about her handling of the situation.

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"People were, like, 'Put the man back on the plane.' People were voicing their opinion. She burst into tears. Then she said: 'I can't fly with these people,' " Beiner said.

Landau said passengers were asked to deplane after the crew expressed concerns over flying with upset passengers.

US Airways offered a bus to take anyone who wanted to get to Long Island that night, she said.

Like Rizzi, Beiner said he took the bus, arriving at MacArthur at about 3:45 a.m.

Beiner said he was told that US Airways would not refund the airfare to passengers who elected to take the bus.

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Landau declined to comment about refunds.

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