Animals

The buzz about Victoria Harbour Airport

You can take a ferry between Seattle, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia, but it’s much faster – and far more thrilling  –  to take a seaplane and land at Victoria Harbour Airport (YWH), a floating seaplane airport that is home to Harbour Air and Kenmore Air.

To mark the first anniversary of the floating terminal, Harbour Air, which serves 9 destinations in British Columbia, put a colony of honey bees (four beehives containing about 10,00 bees) and 50 solar panels on the airport’s one-acre green roof.

A screen inside the terminal will let passengers see how much electricity the solar panels are generating and a ‘bee cam’ offers a live feed of what the bees are doing.

The airport beehives – which airline officials think may be the world’s first floating hives – are already generating honey and by fall Harbour Honey should be available for purchase in the terminal’s coffee area. Sweet!

 

Animals at the airport – why so many?

Airports are going to the dogs – and to the pigs.

More than 30 airports around the country now have regular programs that bring certified pet therapy dogs and their handlers into the terminals to mingle with passengers and help ease the stress of traveling.

And during 2016, some airport pet therapy teams broadened their membership beyond dogs.

Last summer, when passengers were encountering excessively long lines at security checkpoints at many airports around the country, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport began welcoming miniature therapy horses and their handlers to visit several times a month.

And as the winter holiday travel season went into high gear, two airports announced that pigs were joining their pet therapy teams.

LiLou, a Juliana-breed pig, joined San Francisco International Airport’s Wag Brigade.

And a pot-bellied pig named Bacon Bits is now part of Albany International Airport’s Canine Ambassador program.

More animals in the air

Of course, not all the animals you see in airport terminals these days are just there to be petted.

According to the American Pet Products Association, there are around 77 million pet dogs and 85 million pet cats in the United States — and a growing number of their owners take them along when they travel by air.

And when they fly as carry-on passengers in the cabin, those pets need to have tickets.

On Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, the domestic fee for a pet in the cabin is $100 each way. On American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, its $125 each way. Frontier Airlines charges $75 each way, and on Southwest the fee is $95 each way.

In some cases, more than one small pet can travel in a pet carrier (and avoid an extra fee), but some airlines will tack on an extra fee if there’s a stopover of more than four hours.

Emotional support animals

The costs to take a pet on a plane can add up, which may be part of the reason an increasing number of passengers are claiming that their animals aren’t just pets but official service or “emotional support” animals which, by law, get to fly for free.

Like Frontier Airlines, which had an issue earlier this year with a passenger’s emotional support marmoset, each airline website lists very specific conditions under which they will accept service animals or therapeutic/emotional support animals on their plane.

An official identification card and/or a written statement from a mental health professional is usually required, but many websites make it easy for pet owners to acquire ‘fake’ documentation — for a fee.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a duck or a mini horse, as long as a passenger has the correct paperwork, they’re allowed to fly with an emotional support animal and nobody can say anything about it,” said veteran flight attendant Heather Poole, author of Cruising Attitude.

Poole says it’s not a flight attendant’s job to determine which passengers are flying with true support animals or which ones have simply secured paperwork to avoid paying a fee for their pet to fly, but “I can spot a fake emotional support animal a mile away,” said Poole. “It’s usually growling or barking at other support animals. That, or it’s dressed nicer than its owner.”

2017 may bring changes — or at least some clarification — in how airlines and passengers define service or emotional support animals.

While noting that its ACCESS Advisory Committee was unable to reach agreement on updated rules regarding service animals, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently said it intends to draft its own rules.

“The guide dog and animal training groups all agree this is a problem, so does the community,” said Eric Lipp of the Open Doors Organization. “One solution floated is to have a national registry and certification for service animals so they are given ID. The DOT could also fine a passenger and make big news. That would help, but who wants to do that?”

(A slightly different version of my story about animals in airports and on airplanes first appeared on NBC News Travel.)

Best new airport amenities from 2016

People love to complain about all the time they must spend in airports on their way to someplace else.

But, more and more, many airports have turned into darn fine places to hang out in thanks to the addition of art and history exhibits, appealing restaurants and shops and a wide array of welcome amenities.

During 2015, for example, many airports worked out their differences with ride-hailing services such as Lyft, Uber and Wingz and added lactation stations for nursing mothers.

This week and next, StuckatTheAirport.com will run down some of the best new amenities airports added during 2016.

Today: animals at the airport

During 2016, indoor pet potties popped up at hundreds of airports thanks to a Department of Transportation ruling that requires airports to create at least one relief area on the sterile side of each terminal to accommodate service animals.  Traveling pets and the many working dogs at airports get to use the pet lavs without going back out through security as well.

And while it’s no longer rare to have teams of certified pet-therapy dogs and their handlers roaming terminals to engage with passengers and ease the stress of travel, this year several airports welcomed their first non-canine team members.

Miniature therapy horses from Seven Oaks Farm now visit Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport two or three times a month and both San Francisco International Airport and New York’s Albany International Airport have certified therapy pigs on their teams.

 

 

 

Snake on a plane; moose in a rental car lot

venomous-snake-stows-away-in-passenger-cabin-of-aeromexico-flight

I can barely stand to look at this photo or the video in the Tweet below, let alone imagine being on a plane where a giant snake – possibly a venomous green viper 5 feet long – drops down from the overhead bins into the seats below, but this actually happened on an Aeromexico flight from Torreon to Mexico City on Sunday.

According to UPI, the plane was given priority landing clearance in Mexico City and animal control officers came on board to remove the serpent.

In other news… the Connecticut State Police reported that on Monday they were called in to help redirect a moose that somehow got stuck in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car parking lot at Bradley International Airport.

moose-at-bradley-airport

“File this under ‘things they don’t tell you about in the academy'” says the Connecticut State Police Facebook post about the incident.

How do horses, dolphins and stud bulls fly?

horses-flying-on-air-horse-one-in-october-2016-munched-on-hay-during-their-trip-photo_harriet-baskas

Horses on Air Horse One/Photo: Harriet Baskas

For my ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY this month, I traveled to Lexington, Kentucky’s Blue Grass Airport and to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to learn how horses and other animals fly.

In Lexington, it was all about horses and Air Horse One, the leased 727-200 aircraft the H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Company uses to fly valuable race horses and show horses around the country at ticket prices that top out at just shy of $5,000 for a one-way trip.

Fed Ex, UPS and large commercial airlines ship horses and other animals as cargo, but Tex Sutton – as the company is commonly known – began ferrying Kentucky Derby winners and other prized horses by air in 1969 and remains the one U.S based horse transportation company that uses a dedicated aircraft to do so.

Courtesy Blue Grass Airport

Courtesy Blue Grass Airport

At During my visit to Blue Grass Airport, Mike Payne, Tex Sutton’s operations manager explained that horses flying on the airline make their way between transport trailers and the airplane on custom-built ramps with high walls so that their feet never touch the ground and so there’s little chance of having a horse get loose at the airport.

Once on board, horses are loaded into specially built stalls that can be arranged two or three across inside the airplane. While the owners of some “celebrity” horses may charter the entire plane, Air Horse One can carry 18 to 20 horses per flight.

Thoroughbreds that have ‘pets,’ such as goats, that help calm them in stalls on the ground can bring their buddies along on the plane – like carry-on luggage – for no extra charge. The same goes for grooms, who travel as animal couriers and get regular seats in the back of the plane.

To accommodate their special cargo, the pilots of Air Horse One make wide turns and extra gentle ascents and descents to try to keep the horses from getting spooked or losing their balance.

“You don’t want to give them too many positive or negative G’s because their feet can slip out from under them and they can fall down,” said Payne, “Or they’ll get that floating sensation and start scrambling to find the floor.”

Like air ambulances and Air Force One, at airports around the country Air Horse One often gets preference when it comes time to take off.

And while Air Horse One predominantly hauls horses the airline recently transported someone’s 40-pound pet miniature cow and, separately, five dolphins.

“Everyone involved with those dolphins was very hush-hush,” said Payne, “They had a police escort and no one would say anything or answer questions, which made you think they were probably military dolphins.”

Courtesy KLM

Courtesy KLM

While Tex Sutton has been hauling horses by air since 1969, all manner of animals have been traveling as cargo on airplanes for much longer.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was already transporting bees and baby chicks in 1923, but in 1924 the carrier became the first commercial airline to transport a large live animal when it flew Nico, a valuable young stud bull, from Rotterdam to Paris.

Courtesy KLM

Courtesy KLM

In 1948, when The Hague was celebrating a major milestone, the Swiss capital of Bern sent two baby bears – via KLM – as a present.

And, a KLM blog post celebrating the carrier’s history describes, the post-World War II growth of KLM’s animal transport business came to include donkeys, tigers, elephants, horses, a giraffe, dolphins and “countless dogs and cats.”

Courtesy KLM

Courtesy KLM

Today, KLM has an “Animal Hotel” at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport that is billed as one of the world’s largest and most modern such facilities in the world.

And while I didn’t see any rhinos or lions during my tour of the animal hotel earlier I did see (and hear) towers of containers filled with one-day old chicks and trailers filled with thoroughbred horses patiently waiting to board their flights.