A California woman who suffers from painful injuries says she’s determined to make sure airlines treat handicapped people with respect after she was barred from an airport lounge — and a place to rest — because of her service dog.
Micaela Bensko lives with spinal injuries that require she lie down regularly or suffer severe pain. That’s why she spent $75 for a ticket to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK Airport, only to be denied at the door by an agent, even as she was in her wheelchair.
“I’m not sure what their policies are, but with Virgin Atlantic policy, with any service animal you have to have some sort of paperwork,” the agent told Bensko in a video she recorded moments after being denied access to the lounge because of her service dog.
“I can’t even lay down, it’s all hard concrete,” Bensko said in the video as she tried to lie down on the floor of the airport.
Bensko said she posted the video to YouTube because she was fed up with being treated differently.
“Every time I travel I experience something,” she told News 4.
She rarely travels but wanted to share her 15th anniversary with her husband, who works in Germany. Their trip in New York went well until her ordeal with the agent.
Virgin Atlantic has since said Bensko needed no such paperwork to enter the lounge with her service animal.
"We are sincerely sorry for the experience Ms. Bensko had at JFK earlier this week, and would like to reassure all customers that support dogs are welcome in our clubhouses,” a spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.
Bensko believes the humanity has been removed from air travel.
“We have these cases, and 48 hours later there’s a big settlement, but nothing changes,” she said.
She says she won’t stop until airlines make it a policy that people with disabilities are treated with dignity and according to each airline’s rules.
“I do believe that if you feel firmly about something, you can make something happen, and I’m dead set on it, because this has got to stop,” she said.
Bensko said all she wants is a promise from the airlines that they’ll train their staffs on how to treat people, especially those with disabilities.
Virgin Atlantic said it sent an urgent message out to its staff after Bensko’s incident to make sure everyone is aware of the rules. The airline has also launched an investigation into how it happened.
Bensko’s story was just the latest negative interaction between airline staff and passengers, including the doctor who was dragged from a United plane after refusing to leave an overbooked flight last month.