Video: Disabled Passenger Denied Access to Virgin Lounge Because of Service Animal

May 12, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Another day, another video showing a passenger being mistreated by an airline — this time it’s a Virgin Lounge agent denying entry because of a service animal.

Earlier this week, Micaela Bensko and her service dog Blue Belle were flying Virgin America from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The wheelchair-bound passenger had purchased a day pass for the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, but was denied entry when she tried to enter with her service dog. Bensko later posted this video of her interaction with the club agent and her reaction following the incident:

The video starts as a recording of Bensko interacting with the lounge agent — it seems the situation had clearly been in progress before the recording started — while text across the screen explains that the agent is requiring a doctor’s note in order for her to bring a service animal into the lounge. Eventually, a supervisor is called to over the lounge, but after waiting for a while — the passenger states 30 minutes, but the lounge agent challenges that — Bensko says her condition is flaring up and she can’t wait for the supervisor any longer, which then prompts a re-hashing of the argument. At 5:20, we finally hear the Virgin agent state the reason she is being denied entry: “With any service animal, you have to have some sort of paperwork.”

So, what does Virgin America’s policy actually say? While the carrier does require a doctor’s note for emotional support animals, the policy for service animals requires an “identification card for the animal,” as well as the “presence of harness or markings on harness tag” and the passenger’s “credible verbal statement.”

Virgin America service animal

In the YouTube video description, Bensko explains that “Blue Belle wears her vest clearly marked with 6″x2″ panels that say SERVICE DOG. I carry her vaccination papers with me at all times.” That being said, she doesn’t state — and we can’t be 100% sure — that she presented the agent with an acceptable identification card for Blue Belle. It’s possible that this requirement was what the agent meant by “paperwork,” and we never hear the agent specifically request to see a doctor’s note.

To its credit, Virgin America is taking responsibility for the situation, apologizing to the passenger and clarifying policies with its lounge employees in the meantime. Here’s the full statement that Virgin America provided TPG when we reached out for more details:

“We are sincerely sorry for the experience Ms. Bensko had at JFK airport earlier this week and would like to reassure all customers that support dogs are welcome in our Clubhouses. As soon as we were made aware of this incident, we sent an urgent reminder to our Clubhouse teams to clarify the policy around support dogs and will be investigating further to improve the way the situation was handled. It is never our intention to disappoint our customers and we’re keen to speak directly with the customer to understand what improvements we can make to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and to offer our heartfelt apologies.”

Bottom Line

This incident seems to be an error by the lounge worker, who denied the passenger because of her service animal. As in the case with my recent incident with United, we know airline employees can occasionally misunderstand or misapply airline policies. In this case, the situation was made worse by the failure of a supervisor to clarify the situation in a timely manner and the extended wait seemed to have exacerbated the passenger’s medical condition — Bensko seems to be in pain when leaving the lounge, but looks to be physically recovered by the end of the video, although she has to lie on the terminal floor to be comfortable.

It’s through these high-profile stories that airlines are either clarifying existing policies (as in this case) or changing their policies to be more customer-friendly. We hope Virgin and other airlines can learn a lot from this situation and work to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

H/T: Fox News Travel

Featured image courtesy of Manuel Faba Ortega via Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.