November 21, 2013

Blind man kicked off flight with service dog speaks out

Guests: Albert Rizzi, Lambros Lambrou

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," November 21, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: My next guest was legally blind, said he and his service dog Doxie were booted from a US Airways flight earlier this week because his four-legged friend would not sit still. And after other passengers protested the flight was canceled. Now we did reach out to US Airways for a statement. This is what they told us. They said, "US Airways transports more than 80 million customers every year and ensures that all customers, including those with disabilities, are treated with dignity and respect. We're particularly sensitive to those customers who travel with service animals and we partner with Assistance Dogs International, ADI, an organization that trains and places assistance dogs around the world."

The statement goes on to read, "In this instance, Mr. Rizzi became disruptive and refused to comply with crew member instructions when the flight attendant asked him to secure his service dog. As a result of his disruptive behavior the crew returned to the gate and removed Mr. Rizzi and his service dog from the flight. The flight eventually was canceled and we transported Mr. Rizzi, his service dog, and the rest of our passengers on the flight to Islip [Airport in Long Island] by bus. We apologized to the customers of the flight for the inconvenience. We continue to investigate the incident and have reached out to Mr. Rizzi several times but he has not responded to us."

Here with us now with reaction, the passenger himself, Albert Rizzi, his attorney, Lambros Lambrou, and of course Doxie the dog. First of all it is great to see you. I got to talk with you on the radio. You've been blind for how long now, since 2006 right?

ALBERT RIZZI, US AIRWAYS EXPRESS PASSENGER: In 2006 I lost my eyesight. I woke up on January 6, 2006, and was in the hospital for two months, the last month of 2005 and the first month of 2006.

HANNITY: All right, this was a bad case of meningitis.

RIZZI: Yes.

HANNITY: Really difficult case. You woke up one day totally blind.

RIZZI: Yes.

HANNITY: OK. So you traveled many times before, right?

RIZZI: Yes. I've traveled. I've actually done nothing but travel since I got Doxie, and this year alone I think probably no less than 10 times.

HANNITY: So you get on this flight. I also spoke to the passenger Mary who was sitting next to you.

RIZZI: Right.

HANNITY: And the passenger sitting in front of you, Kurt.

RIZZI: Yes.

HANNITY: They said Doxie was extremely well behaved, sat under the seat. Were there any issues with Doxie? They told me no.

RIZZI: No. As far as I was concerned the only issue that Doxie had was he did not like to be away from me, and every time he was put in a place that was, quote-unquote, "stowed" he wanted to sneak back over and say hi to me and be touching daddy. And his hind quarters were back under Mary's feet and his head was under my feet. Never once was he in the aisle or off leash.

HANNITY: Mary told me she kept telling the flight attendant it's OK. I have no problem at all. We're very happy here. Nothing is going on. And you were in the last row?

RIZZI: We were in the last row. It's a little puddle jumper. There are five seats and two rows on either side. So I was sitting in the middle facing down the aisle. There was nothing at all of truth to what this woman purports was going on. And, you know, Mary was very generous in giving up her leg room. Many people on any flight, I don't know many people who would do that. And the dog was always well behaved and totally in control like he is right now.

HANNITY: So tell me what happened. The flight attendant comes back. Walk us through what happened.

RIZZI: We got on the plane. Right away she noticed I came on with a dog. I self-identify as a blind traveler and always let people know I'm traveling with my guide dog just out of respect and out of hope that everybody will travel comfortably. We walked to the back of the plane. She showed me to the seat. And I sat down.

As I'm putting up my stuff she said, would you be able to put the dog under a seat? I'm like no. I don't have a seat. So a conversation started. Mary offered her spot. The dog went under. Now we were on the tarmac just about two hours, I would say an hour and 43 minutes when we turned around.

HANNITY: The plane was delayed.

RIZZI: Which we really still don't know why at this moment.

HANNITY: All right.

RIZZI: And the dog walked, kind of snuck out, like I said before, wanted to be with daddy, had his paws out, had his head on my foot, whatever it was. Half of his hind quarters were under Mary. And the flight attendant comes back and says you need to move that dog back under the seat. We can't take off until he does.

So we obliged. It was the third time now about an hour and a half maybe into the whole process and she does this again. And as we stated yesterday on the radio, Kurt remembers I said to her "Why are you being so evil about this?" She said "If I were evil I would just turn this plane around now." So a dialogue ensued. I said to her, "I can't do what you want me to do. You're not giving me the tools to succeed. So why don't you just go back, sit down, when you're ready tell me we're taking off. I'll put the dog under the seat. We'll be in Long Island in 45 minutes. This will be a memory."

HANNITY: It's a short flight.

RIZZI: We spent more time talking about the dog being under the seat than in the air.

HANNITY: Look, you never got in the air.

RIZZI: True.

HANNITY: When we come back, this is a pretty amazing story, because when they kicked you off the flight -- I'll let you tell the story.

RIZZI: OK.

HANNITY: Every other passenger went with you.

RIZZI: Yes, sir.

HANNITY: They stood up in solidarity for you which is an incredible story. We'll continue with Albert and of course Doxie, beautiful dog, and his lawyer, by the way, right after the break. Stay with us as "Hannity" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HANNITY: As we continue on "Hannity" with Albert Rizzi and his lawyer, so you and Doxie are on the plane. Now, the flight attendant, you're getting kicked off the plane?

RIZZI: Right. She decides we turn the plane around and we go to the gate. We all find out -- we were on the tarmac an hour and 45 minutes. Go in. The guy comes on whose name is Lamar and was a fantastic representation of calm and collectedness. He was just great. And says let me help you with your bags. I don't need help, but OK, maybe he is going to help the poor blind guy.

So I let him help me. And as I close the overhead compartment, I get this eerie feeling I'm the only one getting off this plane. I said, "Excuse me, am I the only one getting off the plane?" He said, "We'll discuss that inside." It was then and only then I really lost my temper dropping a few colorful words, f- bombs and few others, screaming at this flight attendant for being obnoxious and just ill-equipped to do her job. And in we went sort of walking a walk of shame. It was the most unbelievable sense of horrible. I just felt so disenfranchised and marginalized. I felt like garbage. It was the worst thing I ever felt since finding out I was never going to see again. And it was just crazy.

HANNITY: So you get -- you have a confrontation you, but they decided they're kicking you off the plane by that point.

RIZZI: Yes.

HANNITY: So this is where the story gets incredible to me, because everyone else on the plane stands up for you. Tell that part.

RIZZI: What happened was that I'm wondering what is going on. We had a different exchange going on at the exact same time that was happening on the plane. What was happening on the plane is that everybody stood up and was telling the -- whatever management, the pilot, the flight attendant, whoever was on the plane, that this was not right. There is nothing they saw that could have caused her to come to that conclusion. There is no dog running up and down the aisle. There was no argumentative word. There was just me saying, "I can't do what you want me to do."

And these people stood up. There was a gentleman on the flight named Chris whose brother is blind, so he got personal and involved. Mary said we're not going without Albert. Kurt, a few others, Pat, Barbara, everybody. She broke down in tears. And then the pilot said, you know, we can't fly like this.

Now, inside I'm trying to figure out what is going on, on the plane. Lamar and I are talking. He said, "Mr. Rizzi, stop yelling at me, I think I understand what happened." He saw the dog laying down, calm. And I was having a very harmonious dialogue and exchange with Mary.

HANNITY: This dog hasn't moved since you've been on this set.

RIZZI: No. No. This is what he does all the time. When we're doing different interviews for TV and news, the papers and everything, they said, "Can you make the dog jump?" No. He's not like that.

HANNITY: So you're talking to Lamar and off the plane. Then what happens?

RIZZI: This is where it gets crazy for me, personally. I was really feeling terrible. Lamar realizes not only was it nothing like this woman reported but there were empty seats, so I could have moved anywhere. His colleague Linda said, "You mean the dog could have had his own seat?" Yes.

I self-identified as a blind traveler with a guide dog. At that moment, I hear Lamar go "Oh, my God." And I'm thinking they're coming to put handcuffs on me. Open the door and in comes all 35 people, screaming, "Get my bags. If he's not on the plane we're not going. You fire her. There's nothing she said is true." I'm getting chills now just thinking about that. That concentration of solidarity, that sense of humanity is what we're lacking today. And those people gave to it me in spades. I just -- you know, it's, I think we could learn a lesson from this. This is why I'm here with you today to try, and I appreciate the opportunity, to really challenge people to do the right thing, even if sometimes it's uncomfortable.

HANNITY: I'm getting chills just hearing, when they all came off and they're saying we're not going without you.

RIZZI: I have no words. It's --

HANNITY: I have to ask your lawyer one question. Are you going to sue?

LAMBROS LAMBROU, ATTORNEY FOR ALBERT RIZZI: We are exploring all the possibilities, and our principle objective is to make sure that this doesn't happen to anyone else. And the answer is, we are considering that possibility. And you know, as Albert has told you, he wants to make sure that people with disabilities are treated fairly, that it doesn't happen again. And that may in fact include a lawsuit.

HANNITY: I have to tell you, like a lot of -- when bad situations happen sometimes it brings out the best out of people. This is one of the cases. I heard you're all going out to dinner soon?

RIZZI: Yes. I would love to be able to get a hold of that manifest, because one of the things I want to do when the dust settles and we've corrected this -- and actually, it's already started. I've been asked to speak in D.C. on the 10th at the Airline Transportation Access Conference. It's a new conference and it's all about being accessible to travel options. And that is what we're going to do. We're going to have everybody come out and celebrate and I want to take them all to dinner.

HANNITY: Albert, it's an honor to meet you. Doxie is a beautiful dog. I'm shaking your hand.

RIZZI: Thank you.

HANNITY: My friend, God bless you.

RIZZI: God bless you too.

HANNITY: I think you're going to have a profound impact. Thank you for being with us.

RIZZI: Thank you very much for having me.

Content and Programming Copyright 2013 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2013 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.