WSVN — Elton is an 11-year-old service dog who watches every move Paula Tyer makes.
Paula Tyer: “Elton, come on, put your vest on. Thank you. All right, we're good to go. Give me five; all right.”
Paula is a Vietnam-era veteran and a retired police officer with more than 25 years in law enforcement. But all that service came with a price: a fused foot and spinal problems.
Paula Tyer: “And so I can't balance myself very well and I hold onto him. It's like holding a handrail on stairs. He helps me to walk.”
In the past, Paula and Elton have flown without a problem, but on a recent AirTran flight, Paula says she requested a bulkhead seat, one in front of a wall that has extra floor space. She says she made that request two hours before the flight and was told at the ticket counter it would be no problem.
Paula Tyer: “For me to be able to put my feet down and for him to have room to lie down.”
Instead, she says she was put in the window seat of a row for three people, where there was no room for the dog. This despite the fact there were two empty bulkhead seats.
She says a flight attendant ordered her to stay in the window seat, where a lady with a broken foot took the aisle seat and a large lady showed up for the middle seat. When she went back to the flight attendant, she says he told her to wait outside the plane.
Paula Tyer: “I mean, here I am, a disabled senior woman with a service dog helping me walk, and I'm told I have to get back off the plane, and so I said, 'OK.'”
Paula says she was eventually told to return to the window seat.
Paula Tyer: “And everybody's looking at me. I was humiliated.”
However, that's not the end of this story. Paula says when she got back to the seat, she tripped and fell. This just weeks after spinal surgery. And then, a customer service rep came aboard and ordered her off the plane.
Paula Tyer: “'You need to come with me.' I said, 'OK.'”
Attorney Nolan Klein specializes in disability issues. He says Paula's treatment violates federal rules that govern airlines.
Nolan Klein: “Which says that upon request by a person traveling with a service animal, you must allow them to have a bulkhead seat.”
Klein adds there's also a human factor to consider.
Nolan Klein: “I mean, I don't know what's going through the mind of somebody who's looking at a disabled veteran who needs a dog for her health and has the callousness to basically do nothing at all to help her, including not allowing her to move to an empty seat.”
However, that's not how the airline sees it. AirTran is owned by Southwest Airlines, which turned down our request for an interview. But Southwest sent a statement that puts the blame on Paula after she asked to move seats.
In part, it reads:
“The customer became verbally abusive and uncooperative during the discussion, at which point we had no choice but to remove her from the aircraft to continue the conversation and allow the other customers on the aircraft to depart.”
Southwest also said Paula was offered “several seating options,” that it regrets the “unfortunate situation,” and that Paula turned down an offer to take “a later flight.”
Paula Tyer: “I'm afraid to get on another airplane with my dog.”
So for now, this duo is grounded. Carmel Cafiero, 7News.
Paula filed complaints with several agencies and says she wants to make sure what happened to her, doesn't happen to anyone else.
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: