Dogs from CATS on duty at Denver Airport

Photo courtesy Denver International Airport

Photo courtesy Denver International Airport

Denver International is the latest to join the pack of airports with a team of therapy dogs on duty to help relieve stress and anxiety for passengers.

Denver’s crew is called CATS – which stands for Canine Airport Therapy Squad – and each one of the dogs is registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and is trained, certified and insured.

CATS dogs will be easy to spot: they’ll be wearing “Pet Me” vests.

Want a preview? Denver International Airport has a gallery of pooch pictures on line.

Pets on planes

American Airlines first class pets

Courtesy American Airines

People fly first class, so why not pampered pets?

That’s the idea behind the specially designed travel compartments designed for small dogs and cats on select transcontinental American Airlines flights popular with business travelers and entertainment industry VIPs.

The pet cabins—two per plane—are at the front of the first-class section of the 17 Airbus 321 aircraft the carrier uses on flights between New York’s JFK International and both San Francisco and Los Angeles International Airports.

The planes’ full lie-flat seats in first class don’t allow for under-the-seat storage of a pet carrier during takeoff and landing, but the airline designed the cabin with special ventilated compartments for pets.

For $125 each way, passengers booking first-class tickets may reserve a pet compartment for their furry companion. While pets traveling first class on these flights won’t get an amenity kit, champagne or an oxygen mask in case of emergency, their tickets cost the same as those pets traveling under the seat in coach.

“Obviously, the airline understands the needs of their [first-class] passengers and has compromised by allowing a special space for their pets,” said Susan Smith of “I think it’s great.”

It’s not just first-class passengers who want to travel with their pets. Eighty million U.S. households now have pets, and a growing number of those animal lovers now take their pets along when they fly.

Domestic airlines I contacted wouldn’t divulge how many pets they ticket as carry-on passengers each year. However, each has a formal program and detailed policies for how to get a pet on a plane, at prices that can top $125 per pet, each way for a domestic trip.

For each animal allowed, the airlines list charges, size and weight restrictions for pets and pet carriers, and required travel certificates.

Frontier Airlines, for example, charges $75 per pet carrier each way and allows cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small household birds on board. Although each passenger may only bring aboard one pet carrier, there is no limit placed on the number of pet carriers allowed on each flight.

Southwest Airlines only allows dogs and cats as carry-on passengers, charges a $95 pet fare each way and allows up to six pet carriers on each flight and sells its own carry-on compliant pet carrier ($58) online and at the airport counters.

The charge for in-cabin pets on United Airlines—cats, small dogs, rabbits and birds—is $125 each way, with an additional $125 charge for each stopover of more than four hours on domestic flights.

While some passengers take their pets out of the carriers during a flight, Barbara DeBry of urges her clients to follow airline rules that require pets to remain in their carriers the entire flight. Otherwise, it could make for a rather unpleasant experience.

“There was a recent incident where a woman refused to put her dog in the carrier and ended up being removed from the flight in handcuffs,” said DeBry, “She may have ruined it for everyone else.”

For those whose pets are too big, too unruly or otherwise unsuitable to travel with you as in-cabin passengers, there are other options. Pets can travel as checked baggage or as cargo, with an escort or courier service. If your budget allows, you can also fly by private jet.

Cats on suitcase

Courtesy: Marco Feldhoff

“We work with charter services, which are quite expensive,” said Susan Smith of, “but we’re aiming toward shared charters to bring the cost down.”

An option in the future might be transporting an animal on its own via an airline that only carries pets.

Pet Airways flew about 9,000 pets on small Beechcraft 1900 twin turbo-prop planes between 2009 and 2011, but ceased operations during the recession,” said company founder and CEO Dan Wiesel We were not able to tap into enough capital to survive.”

Wiesel says he’s working on resurrecting the airline now. “The economy is good, and pet parents still want an alternative to flying their pets in cargo.”

(My story about Pets on Planes first appeared on CNBC)


2014 round-up of best new airport amenities

Aeroplane-Hat-Alice White

Convenience is king for travelers hoping to spend as little time as possible in an airport. But for those who must hang around a while, it’s amenities that matter.

And during 2014, airports around the country introduced a wide variety of very welcome amenities for travelers.

Here’s the round-up I put together from my ‘At the Airport’ column on USA Today.

More ways to get to and from the airport – legally

Airports around the country are struggling to work out policies and permitting programs for on-demand rideshare services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. The services are currently banned at several airports, but in September Nashville International Airport became the first U.S. airport to officially recognize Uber and Lyft and in October San Francisco International signed agreements with Sidecar, Lyft and UberX. A few other airports have issued permits to some Transportation Network Companies as well, and we’ll likely see this amenity added to the ground transportation options at other airports during 2015.

‘Drinks on the go’

Nashville Intl smaller

This year, Nashville International Airport (BNA) introduced “drinks on the go.” Thanks to an airport-wide beer and liquor license, passengers no longer have to sit at the bar or in a restaurant to enjoy their alcoholic beverage but can take it with them anywhere in the secure side of the terminal.

Pot and airports

Pot amnesty box installed at Colorado Spring Airport this year. Not much use, but plenty of social media mentions. Courtesy of the airport.

During 2014, shops selling recreational marijuana became legal in both Colorado and Washington and the airports in those states had to decide how – or if – they’d go about enforcing rules prohibiting passengers from taking pot to and through security checkpoints and onto planes.

Most put up signs reminding passengers of the federal laws governing travel across state lines with marijuana – or did nothing – but in January, Colorado Springs Airport installed a pot amnesty box at the security checkpoint. Few travelers seem to be using the box to dispose of unused pot, but with images of the amnesty box being snapped and shared, the airport’s social media profile is certainly higher.

Airport workouts

Travelers can rent a bike at BWI airport and ride  along the BWI Trail. courtesy BWI

During 2014, SFO airport opened its second yoga room (in Terminal 3, Boarding Area E) and following last December’s opening of a yoga room at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, in September Chicago’s Midway International Airport got a yoga space as well.

In July, Philadelphia International Airport partnered with a local fitness equipment retailer to install stationary exercise bikes at several locations throughout the airport and this year Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was among several airports adding marked walking paths inside (and sometimes outside of) its terminals.

For those who would rather exercise outdoors, in August bike-share company Zagster installed a rack of 10 reservable bikes in a rack outside the international terminal at BWI Marshall. For $5 (good for 12 hours), passengers can borrow a bike and ride it around the 12.5-mile scenic outdoor trail that encircles the airport.

Wi-Fi milestones

Travelers have come to expect unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi at airports, and in 2014, the Houston airports (IAH and HOU) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined the team of major airports that provide this much-appreciated amenity.

JetBlue has offered complimentary unlimited Wi-Fi in Terminal 5 at JFK for a while now, but earlier this year the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced its intention to offer free 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions for all travelers at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.

The Port Authority and Wi-Fi provider Boingo are still working on those plans, but in a statement earlier this week said that free Wi-Fi will be available in at least one terminal at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports by month’s end, with the free 30-minute service at all terminals anticipated by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

“Complimentary 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions are now available in JFK Terminal 4 and Newark (EWR) Terminal C, with free service on target to be available at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building by month’s end,” according to a Boingo spokesperson.


In 2014 Reno-Taho International Airport gave out free compliments on National Compliment Day.

To show off a $10 million reboot of the shops and restaurants in the post-security AIRMALL at Pittsburgh International, PIT airport invited non-ticketed visitors to come out for a one-day holiday event in early December. More than 1,500 people attended the event, which may be repeated, and “someone tweeted us asking why the San Antonio airport can’t do the same,” said PIT spokeswoman Alyson Walls.

On National Compliment Day (January 24), the staff at Reno-Tahoe International Airport set up a booth to dispense kind words to passengers. Some travelers were complimented on their choices of glasses, colorful scarves and boots, said airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “and booth volunteers even admired a gentleman’s ‘confident gait’ as he rushed by.”

Let’s hope the smart, charming and lovely volunteers at RNO set up that booth again this year.

Airport trading cards


As a gift to aviation geeks and collectors everywhere, in September, more than 20 airports around the country teamed up to create the North American Airports Collectors Series of trading cards. Each card has an iconic image of an airport on the front, fun factoids about the airport on the reverse, and are being distributed in the terminals of participating airports. Twenty-three cards are currently in the series, with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport set to begin distributing its trading card after Christmas.

And then there are amenities that aren’t necessarily airport firsts, but are proud 2014 additions for the airports that have installed them.

Seattle-Tacoma International, for example, is proud that during 2014, it not only added handy cup holders to many seating areas, but brought branches of two iconic local brands, Metsker Maps and indie music label Sub Pop, into the airport.

New kids play area at STL Airport has a rental car center

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is still giggling with delight over the children’s play area that opened in May. The 1,500-square-foot Magic House not only has a kid-sized plane and an air traffic control tower with a slide, it has car rental counters, a luggage conveyor belt and an airport screening area with a pretend x-ray machine.

At Denver International Airport -Passengers interact with the new Open Windows display

Denver International Airport is proud of the popular water bottle refill stations it installed throughout the airport terminals this year, the new on-airport pet boarding facility, and its just-plugged in “Open Windows” experimental interactive digital customer experience on Concourse B that combines 128 LED rings of light and a 3D motion-detection camera to create an 11-foot-tall interactive tower of lights that react to a person’s movement.

Did I miss your favorite new airport amenity from 2014? Please add it in the comments below.

5 wacky ways to celebrate the 4th of July

No need to settle for the traditional barbecue or parade this July 4th holiday weekend.
Head instead to one of these towns showing off an offbeat and independent patriotic spirit.


World’s Largest Cherry Pie served in George, Washington. Courtesy Debby Kooy

In George, Washington, the celebration includes baking the world’s largest cherry pie. “They used to pick the cherries, pit the cherries, make the filling and bake the pie in a special 8 by 8 foot pan in a giant wood-fired stove over in the park,” said Debby Kooy, 58, part of a local service group called the Georgettes that bakes the treat annually. “That lasted until the year they served burnt cherry pie.”

Now they use ovens at a nearby high school, assembling what Kooy calls “more of a giant cherry crumble,” scooped out free on July 4th to about 2000 hungry fans.

Tortoise pet parade

Courtesy Nick Parvas, AVAM

Meanwhile, just off Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, Md., instead of baton twirlers and fire trucks, they celebrate with a pet parade and animal talent show. A regular favorite is Brutus the Tortoise, “who always carries some sort of wild, patriotic contraption on his shell,” said Nick Prevas, spokesman for the American Visionary Art Museum, which hosts the event.

Participants have also included the usual dogs and cats, but also cows, an alpaca, a cicada circus and “imaginary pets,” said Prevas.

“There’s always someone with one of those ‘ghost dog’ leashes and one year someone carried a can that made meowing sounds,” he said.

Gatlinburg Parade - Betsy Ross copy

The prize for “first” 4th of July parade goes to Gatlinburg, Tenn, which begins at midnight. The early start doesn’t scare away attendees. The town says it expects 100,000 to attend, with some staking out their positions beside the route with lawn chairs as early as 7 a.m. on July 3rd. Later, the celebrations continue with an unmanned river raft regatta.

For other cities, Independence Day isn’t just about bringing 1776 back to life. Orlando’s Celebration Town Center, within the orbit of nearby Disney World, hosts a “Sci-Fi” 4th of July, with an appropriately themed costume contest. During the fireworks display, the rockets released into the air are synchronized to soundtracks from science fiction movies and television shows.

Mount Vernon fireworks daytime

In a nod to modernity, “George Washington” sends word via email from his historic estate in Mount Vernon, Va, that he’s “awaiting many guests to my home on this festive day.” On the grounds of where the first President lived, tourists can watch as the re-enactor “inspects the troops,” played by a group of Revolutionary War re-enactors.

Then, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services will swear in 100 new U.S. citizens. Following the ceremony are daytime fireworks and birthday cake.

More cute airport pet parks

Earlier this week I posted a picture of the cute sculpture in one of the pet relief areas at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

Pet relief area ATL

ATL pet relief area

And the smart park at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

PHX pet relief area

PHX pet relief area

Both are pretty doggone cute. But the folks at Reno-Tahoe International Airport felt left out – so they sent me a note about the spot they’ve set aside for Spot.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport pet relief area

RNO airport pet relief area

It’s hard to tell how cute the park is -but I love the name: Bark Park.

And here’s the park for pets at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Austin Airport pet relief area

Austin-Bergstrom Airport dog park

Have you and your pet found an airport pet relief area that’s fancy AND functional?  Let us know and we’ll try to sniff out a photo and post it here.