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Disabled Veteran's United Airlines Nightmare: Service Dog Kicked, Cancelled Flights, Called Retarded

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Jul 23, 2012 10:27 AM EDT

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Disabled veteran and co-founder of Paws and Stripes, Jim Stanek, took to YouTube to tell the story of his nightmare encounter with United Airlines. Stanek claims that he dealt with three days' worth of delayed and cancelled flights, lost luggage, being called 'retarded' by customer service staff, and even having his service dog kicked twice in the airport by United staff.

Flying can be a nightmare for many, but Stanek discussed the horrendous way he and his dog Sarge were treated as he tried to make his way through various United Airlines flights.  Stanek suffers from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from serving three tours in Iraq.

His story began when he was flying to Knoxville, Tennessee on July 13 for a fundraiser the next day. He had no issues with the flight itself, but United did lose his baggage which contained his medicine and food for his service dog, Sarge. The airline later found his bag that evening, but they refused to deliver it to Stanek right away even though it was marked for rush delivery according to a computer system. Needing his medication and food for his dog, Stanek drove an hour back to the airport to pick up the luggage himself.

However that wasn't Stanek's issue. He was trying to fly home to Albuquerque from Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. on Jul 15 when his real nightmare started.  He claims that while he was waiting for his flight, a United employee accidentally kicked his service dog, which left his dog startled. They "didn't kick her hard, but ... they kicked her," Stanek said.

Stanek's flight was then delayed due to mechanical issue. However a pilot later told the passengers that he refused to fly that night, leaving them under the impression that the flight was cancelled, but it was put under a four hour delay. Stanek tried to ask for assistance from United employees, but he was ignored and felt like his "concerns didn't really matter."

The flight was later cancelled. Stanek had to continuously ask for help from a supervisor as he was in emotional and physical pain due to his PTSD and brain injury acting up. The supervisor helped him and set him up with a hotel and food vouchers and booked him on a new flight the next day.

This nightmare continued the on July 16 at the airport once again. Stanek was sitting with his service dog, waiting for the new flight when another United Airlines employee once again kicked his dog Sarge. However, this time the dog was kicked so hard in the ribs that she jumped up into Stanek's lap.

Stanek's new flight was also cancelled due to a mechanical issue. Not wanting to be stuck at the airport again, Stanek called customer service and was booked on a flight for the next morning. Once he got the flight set up through the phone, Stanek went to the customer service desk to request another hotel and food voucher for the night. Stanek couldn't stand in line due to physical pain and PTSD symptoms.

Once he got to the front of the desk, he asked for the vouchers, but a United employee told him that he didn't qualify for the vouchers because the original flight was rescheduled for later that night. He explained how he had booked another flight after hearing that the flight was cancelled. He asked the employee for help with the paperwork because he wasn't able to read the paperwork due to effects from his brain injury. Since he wasn't able to read the paperwork, the employee asked Stanek if he was "retarded." Stanek, who was patient throughout the process, lost his cool at that point.

Eventually another customer service agent was able to help him. Stanek once again went to a hotel to spend the night.  He returned to the airport the next morning on July 17 for the flight that he booked, but the flight was being delayed for two hours, meaning that he would miss his connecting flight and be stuck in Chicago O'Hare.

Stanek asked if there was anything that the staff could do to help him. The United staff booked him on another evening flight, meaning Stanek would be stuck at the airport for the whole day. He asked for a pillow and a blanket to rest in the airport and he was refused several times until the employee finally gave in.

Later on, Stanek's nightmare eventually came to an end. Two United Airlines employees approached him and asked for his military identification. They immediately helped him and rescheduled him on an earlier flight on an American Airlines plane.

 "I am just absolutely distraught that my dog was kicked twice, I was asked if I was retarded after explaining that I have a brain injury. It bothers me to think that let alone a disabled veteran and even an average citizen of the United States with a disability could be potentially treated this way," Stanek said in response to the whole ordeal.

Stanek doesn't want people to boycott United Airlines, but he does want United and others to be aware of the ordeal that he went through as he feels that he should have been treated better and wants what's best for other disabled citizens.

"I ask that you look at the situation and understand how I was treated and my dog was treated and that I'm sure that there may be other individuals out there that are kind of going through the same thing." Stanek said. "I think this needs to be an education process. I think this needs to be rectified. I think people need to know"

The Department of Transportation is conducting an investigation of the issue. United Airlines is also investgating Stanek's claims.

To learn more about Paws And Stripes, check out their website and Facebook page.

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