Disabled woman’s service dog gets her barred from Virgin Atlantic airport lounge

Disabled woman’s service dog gets her barred from Virgin Atlantic airport lounge
A woman with a spinal condition who requires a wheelchair was denied entrance into a Virgin Atlantic airport lounge because of her service dog. The woman, desperate to lie down to relieve neck pain, recorded her interaction with a Virgin employee.

Micaela Bensko recorded a recent encounter with a Virgin Atlantic lounge employee at JFK International Airport in New York. The staff member would not allow Bensko to enter the lounge even though she had paid for access in order to lie down before her flight.

The California woman says she specifically bought access to the lounge in order to rest given her condition arachnoiditis and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) of the spine, doesn't allow her to stay seated for more than 30 minutes.

The Virgin employee demanded a doctor's note that said Bensko physically needed the service dog, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which does not require such proof and allows service dogs to travel anywhere with disabled people.

As her condition worsened, an exasperated Bensko pleaded with the employee to allow her entrance to rest.

"I'm in too much pain," Bensko said to the employee as they waited for a supervisor to arrive. "I'm sorry I can't wait any longer. You guys are unbelievable."

The wait for the supervisor took so long that Bensko said she had to lie down on the concrete floor in the airport terminal.

In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said it will immediately address its lounge employees on proper law regarding service animals.

"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," the airline said.

"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."

Bensko told KCBS that the wait "was death by a thousand cuts." She's not seeking compensation from the airline, she said, but hopes her video will bring more attention to punitive airline practices.

"Bring humanity back to traveling. That’s what I’m interested in," Bensko said, adding she was not interested in compensation from the airline.