Change to airline’s support dog policy mid-trip had Windsor, Ont. family scrambling to get home

From CTV News – link to source story

Bob Bellacicco, CTV Windsor News Reporter | Wednesday, August 18, 2021

WINDSOR, ONT. — It was supposed to be an enjoyable trip to Alberta but “these kind of changes in the plans are totally unfair,” said Don Brunelle.

He and his wife Brenda travelled WestJet to Calgary on June 30 with Rascal, who is registered as an emotional support animal.

They were having a nice visit until they received a call at lunch time on Aug. 4.

“Advising me that our return trip that’s booked for the 21st of August, Rascal would have to return home kenneled,” Brenda explained.

On July 15, WestJet announced on their website emotional support dogs would no longer be permitted in the cabin of a plane beginning Aug. 5.

Rascal has been an important part of the Brunelle family for 11 years.

“Me kinda taking care of him takes my mind off all the other things that are creating that anxiety so I do have to travel with him,” Don said.

The Brunelles aren’t against policy change, but they feel WestJet could have done a better job of communicating that change in a timely fashion.

“If they change that policy they should really have given maybe a month’s grace or something so that people could adapt to the new way of doing business,” Don said.

“How do you strand people mid trip and then try and tell them ‘well sorry that’s the way the policy is and it comes into effect tomorrow,’” Brenda added.

Not wanting to be separated from Rascal, the Brunelle’s are taking a train home to Windsor.

“We now have to get a ride from Calgary to Edmonton and Via Rail only leaves Edmonton to Toronto on Tuesdays so that’s making us stay here an added week,” Brenda said.

Instead of being home in three or four hours the Brunelle’s say it could take days, with added costs.

They are frustrated and feel they and others like them are being discriminated against.

“They’re discriminating against a very serious, very real and a very well documented illness,” Brenda said.

Brenda says the airline has offered to refund their airfare but she and her husband hope the company rethinks their policy.

“It just allows those of us who require that kind of assistance to have to look elsewhere to make their travel plans,” Don said.

In a statement emailed to CTV News, a WestJet Spokesperson writes “On August 5, 2021, WestJet announced that we would no longer accept emotional support dogs in the cabin, on any flight operated by the WestJet Group. WestJet continues to accept service dogs who meet the outlined criteria for training and behaviour and who support those with disabilities.

It goes on to say, “This policy change provides consistency and clarity across our network, for all of our guests, while ensuring we meet all regulatory requirements for the jurisdictions which we operate in.”

Don Brunelle with emotional support dog Rascal. (courtesy Brunelle family)