Magician Bernard Poston at home in Apple Valley with his missing dove's mate, Dot. AirTran refused to let Poston fly with the missing dove inside his coat. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)
Who's AirTran Airways to say a bird can't fly? Magician Bernard Poston of Apple Valley wants to know after the airline refused to let his bird fly last month aboard a flight from Las Vegas to the Twin Cities. Poston, 49, who uses the bird in his act, said he had no problems carrying it in his coat aboard a Frontier Airlines flight to Las Vegas. But on the way home, he and his dove, Magic, were banned from the AirTran flight, Poston says in a lawsuit he filed last week against the airline.
Poston, who has sued at least a dozen other companies in the past, said he had to abandon his bird in Vegas with an airport worker. "The bird was priceless," Poston said. "I'm talking about - it was a part of my family. The bird is worth its weight in gold. The bird - that's what amazed the people." AirTran, which is based in Orlando, Fla., states on its website that passengers flying with small domesticated cats, dogs and birds must keep them in an approved carrier under their seats, said Brandy King, airline spokeswoman. The airline doesn't check pets as baggage.
"Having loose pets is not an option, especially when you're traveling with a bird," King said.
Poston said he wasn't aware of the policy about flying with pets. He said he didn't think to travel with a cage because he didn't know where to put it on the plane. "The bird felt more comfortable next to me, anyway, because he likes my heart beat," Poston said. The bird learned how to roll over, play dead and disappear during Poston's magic tricks, he said. Now, Poston has only Magic's mate, a female dove named Dot.
The stress of losing Magic caused Poston, an epileptic with a traumatic brain injury, to have seizures, he alleges in the Dakota County District Court lawsuit. He said the airline also delayed his flight by a day but sent his medications ahead to Minnesota, causing him to have more medical problems. Poston said he lost income, too, because of the ordeal. "It was the most horrible experience I've had in my life," Poston said. King said AirTran does not comment on pending lawsuits.
The airline, which was recently bought by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, is changing its pet guidelines, banning birds from flights to correspond with Southwest policies, King said.
Passengers can still fly with birds as assistance and emotional support animals. Assistance animals don't have to fly in carriers, King added. Poston said he and his wife boarded the Sept. 4 flight to Minneapolis with the bird inside his jacket. He boarded the Frontier flight to Las Vegas the same way. That crew asked only to see the bird.
Bernard Poston pets Dot, the mate of Magic, the white dove he says he was forced to leave behind at the Las Vegas airport in September when AirTran Airways refused to let him bring the bird aboard a flight to Minneapolis without a container.
According to Frontier airlines' pet policy online, domesticated pets, including birds, can fly in the cabin if they're inside a travel container. Frontier also checks pets as baggage. A Frontier representative did not return messages Thursday for comment. Poston said he was unaware of Frontier's pet policy.
On the AirTran flight, Poston said, the crew escorted him and his bird to a walkway connecting the terminal to the plane, where a worker opened a door and told Poston to release the animal. The bird flew out the door but stayed nearby. An airport worker offered to keep the bird.
Poston planned to arrange to bring Magic home, but he said he lost the worker's phone number.
Poston said he bought Magic and Dot two years ago from a magician for $50 each. Without the bird, Poston said, he has lost income from his magic shows. The lawsuit also claims AirTran damaged his luggage. He is seeking more than $50,000 in damages. Poston is representing himself in the lawsuit, but he said he hopes a lawyer will help him fight the case. Poston has sued companies in the past, including Walt Disney Travel, Best Buy, Mattress Plus Furniture, Vonage Network and others, according to court records. In many of those lawsuits, Poston said, the parties settled out of court.