Pets

If it looks like a duck…

The debate about emotional support animals on planes may heat up again after a recent Instagram posting by TSA about what was referred to as a passenger’s service duck.

 

“The traveler assured us there was no “fowl” play afoot and that this was simply her service duck. Our officers at Charleston (CHS) were overheard saying that this duck was pretty chill. Not lame at all…” TSA wrote on the Instagram post, while encouraging travelers to contact their airline about service animal policies before going to the airport because “It’s good to have all your ducks in a row.”

Cute, right?

But, as Charleston’s  Post and Courier  noted, the Instagram post is making feathers fly.

In addition to a wide range of duck puns along the lines of “I’m quacking up!,” are comments pointing out the difference between service animals and emotional support animals – “Ducks could count as emotional support animals but only dogs and is miniature horses are able to serve as legitimate service animals. There’s an important distinction between the two.”

Other readers commented on the trend of stretching the definition of service and emotional support animals to pets in order to skirt the fees airlines charge to take an animal on board.

Doing so will “dilute the important role that actual service animals perform for those with disabilities,” one reader said, “Individuals who encounter this animal are less likely to take a legitimate service animal seriously, leading to discrimination of those with disabilities.”

Feel free to wade in with your comments…

 

 

Touring Austin – and Austin Bergstrom Int’l Airport

I joined Delta Air Lines for the inaugural of its direct flight between Seattle and Austin and had one day on the ground to explore the city and the airport.

Base camp was the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin, downtown on Congress Avenue. The hotel is within walking distance of a food cart corner where we fueled up for the day at the silver trailer named My Name is Joe.

The menu includes hearty starts such as Texas Rancher Oats (oatmeal, tomato sauce, poached egg, queso fresco, black beans and avocado) and the proceeds help provide jobs and treatment program funding for service industry workers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Next, we set out on a portion of the 10-mile ride and hike trail around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Transportation – and excellent guides – provided by Rocket Electrics , which offers both organized and custom tours throughout the city on fun and surprisingly easy-to-ride electric bikes.

Then, it was off to Austin Bergstrom International Airport for a tour.

Upgrades galore are underway at AUS airport, with new shops, restaurants, baggage claim and gate areas under construction.

One work-around airport officials are especially pleased about are the four temporary jet bridges -or “elevated walkways,” as the airport calls them –  that have been set up to keep things moving smoothly at one end of the terminal while a new addition is built. The longest temporary jet bridge is 720 feet and AUS’s Derick Hackett believes it is currently the longest temporary jet bridge in the United States.

Record-setting or not, the bridge is so long that the airport has created a marathon-inspired set of posters to encourage passengers on their journey from one end to the other.

We also stopped by for a tour of the newly-opened Bark and Zoom pet hotel and valet parking center right next to the airport, where dogs and cats can be pampered while their people are away. In addition to the upgraded suites where pups can watch cable TV all day (CNN was playing when we toured, but programming is usually Animal Planet), we got to see the guitar-shaped pool pups gets to play in.

Notice the “No Diving” sign….

Pet hotel opens at Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport

 

It almost makes you want to get a pet – just so you can leave it at the airport.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport now has a ‘pet hotel’ combined with a covered parking facility, making it easy for travelers to park their cars and drop off their pets for boarding.

So everyone gets a vacation.

Bark&Zoom is being operated by Austin’s own Taurus Academy, and offers dog and cat boarding, a pet pool (!), and indoor and outdoor play yards.  Both scheduled and emergency veterinary appointments are available.

Parking services, offered by the company’s sister organization, Park&Zoom, include valet services and car car services.

Better yet, the facility will be open 24/7, so people and their pets can get reunited right away.

 

 

 

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.)

Now there’s a pig on duty at SFO Airport

sfo-pig

An increasing number of airports now have teams of therapy dogs on duty in the terminals to help ease the stress of travel.

Back in May, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport added a miniature therapy horse to the mix.

Now comes LiLou the pig – who joins the Wag Brigade at San Francisco International Airport on Monday.

sfo-pig-2

LiLou is the first pig to be certified in the SF SPCA’s Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program and was a perfect fit for SFO, which was determined to expand the type of animals in the Wag Brigade.

LiLou is sure to be quite the hit. In addition to be being a pig at the airport – she does tricks.

According to the stat-card Wag Brigade handlers will be distributing for LiLou in the airport, she can wave, greet you with her snout, play the piano and give a bow after her performance. She will also be twirling and standing up on her back hooves to entertain travelers.

sfo-pig-3

SFO’s Wag Brigade team has at least one dog on duty every day of the week, with up to 3 dogs at a time working their 2-hour shifts.  LiLou doesn’t have a regulars slot in the schedule just yet, but airport officials say the Juliana Pig will be on site at least once a month.

sfo-pig-1

Dogs, miniature horse, a pig. Which animal do you think will show up next in an airport pet therapy program?

(All photos courtesy of SFO Airport)