Florida woman sues American Airlines, claims her emotional support dog was confined to a bathroom

Sara M Moniuszko

A Florida woman is suing American Airlines after she says she and her emotional support dog were mistreated on an April trip from Miami to Los Angeles.

According to the negligence lawsuit, Avigail Diveroli is seeking at least $75,000 in damages, the Associated Press reports. It says she suffers from severe anxiety and confirmed with the airline twice that her “medically necessary comfort animal,” Simba, could travel with her.

Once on the plane, the lawsuit says, a flight attendant screamed at Diveroli saying the dog could not be in the cabin because it’s an FAA violation. The suit says the berating continued as the attendant downgraded Diveroli from business class and quarantined the dog in a bathroom.

In a statement to USA TODAY provided by American spokesperson Alexis Aran Coello, the airline said their professional crews "ensure the safety and comfort of all customers.

"In this case, the customer’s dog was traveling as a pet rather than an emotional support animal or service animal," the statement read. "FAA regulations require pets to stay in kennels that fit under the seat, however, this kennel didn’t fit under the seat. The flight crew tried to handle the situation in accordance with FAA regulations."

The statement continued, "Also, this travel was booked on a 777, which doesn’t allow pets in the premium cabin. Our team at the airport in Miami offered to rebook the passenger on a later flight, but they declined, and opted to take a seat with the pet in the main cabin."

American revised its policies on emotional support animals in March, limiting emotional support animals to cats and dogs and requiring a veterinary health form with vaccination details.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued clarifying guidance to airlines on how to handle service animals and the growing issue of emotional support animals. 

The guidance on species limitations, documentation requirements, containment, check-in and advance notice comes just weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was bitten by an emotional support dog on a flight from Dallas to North Carolina, which prompted union calls to further tighten rules on in-flight animals.

Retired airlines captain John Cox said abusing the emotional support animal rules can have safety implications during an evacuation scenario.

"Critics have complained passengers are able to get instant certification for an emotional support animal, also called a comfort animal, online, and that many aren't properly trained," he said, adding that airlines are "slowly making progress in requiring more documentation for all animals traveling on board."

Contributing: The Associated Press, Julia Thompson

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American Airlines sued by woman over emotional support dog treatment