File Photo.

Phoenix, Arizona – Kevin, a 6-year old German Shepherd, was denied boarding on a U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, North Carolina on September 1 because the pilot feared the dog might be aggressive.

Normally, airlines who allow dogs in the passenger cabin on commercial flights have a size limit; the pet must fit in an airline-approved carrier that fits in the under-seat stowage area for carry-on luggage. Obviously a German shepherd would not meet this requirement, so why was Kevin attempting to fly in the passenger compartment anyway? Because Kevin is a military dog who served two tours in Afghanistan and was on his way to the Democratic National Convention for bomb-sniffing duty.

Kevin usually flies on commercial flights sitting in the row of seats next to the bulkhead with his Navy handler. Until September 1, this arrangement has not been a problem for anyone. But on this evening, as Kevin and his handler were boarding a U.S. Airways flight out of Phoenix,
Arizona, the pilot asked the handler “if the dog was trained to attack.” It is against military policy for handlers to give information about the training of their dogs, so when the handler didn’t provide enough details about Kevin’s skill set, the pilot refused to allow the dog on the flight.

U.S. Airways spokesman Andrew Christie defended the pilot’s decision, saying, “During the boarding process, the captain asked the passenger if the dog was an attack dog. The passenger answered ‘sometimes.’ Out of caution, the captain denied boarding. We don’t transport attack dogs.”

Christie believes that if the handler had been more specific about the dog’s training, the pilot would not have denied them boarding.

“Had he said the dog was a bomb-sniffing dog, there wouldn’t have been a problem,” he said.

The U.S. Marshals service was notified about the incident. The misunderstanding was eventually worked out, but since it was too late for Kevin to fly that evening, Kevin had to remain overnight in Phoenix. He and the handler were allowed to fly on another US Airways flight the following morning.

Kevin spent the next three days checking vehicles for explosives at police checkpoints near the Charlotte venue where the Democratic National Convention was held. Presumably his work performance did not suffer due to the incident in Phoenix.

Story by Mikki Hooven