Animals

Kitten Cuddle coming to Charlotte Douglas Int’l Airport

August 8 is International Cat Day.

To mark the day, Charlotte Douglas International Airport has scheduled a Kitten Cuddle on Wednesday, August 8 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Atrium in front the 1897 Market.

The plan is to have at least 10 kittens on site and available for cuddling, so there should be plenty of cats to go around.

The kittens are coming to CLT courtesy of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control, which currently has more then 250 cats and dogs available for adoption.

Animals in the airport are nothing new at CLT.

While the Kitten Cuddle is a first for the airport, the CLT Canine Crew is mde up of 31 four-legged volunteers who are often on duty to greet passengers. Look for the pups wearing “Pet Me” vests.

‘Lil Rocky Balboa the Griffon, courtesy CLT

More stories of wildlife at airports

More stories of wildlife at airports

Courtesy Port of Portland

I’ve been getting more stories about wildlife ‘incidents’ at airports since my “At the Airport” column – “From worms to whales, the wildlife that worries airports,” appeared online and in print at USA TODAY and will share some of them in future posts.

In the meantime – in case you missed it, here’s a slightly edited version of that column that was inspired by the report of a large alligator caught on tape sauntering across a taxiway between two ponds at Orlando International Airport.

Whle the gator’s journey alarmed passengers and slightly delayed a Spirit Airlines flight on its way to the gate, at MCO airport wildlife visitors are not rare.

“For that reason,” said MCO’s Carolyn Fennell, “We have a biologist and wildlife unit on staff to help with planning new facilities, monitoring and relocating, when needed, various ‘critters’ on our property.”

All airports must manage resident and visiting wildlife because  birds (mostly), as well as deer, alligators, coyote, moose and even an excess of worms on the runway after a rain (a feast for birds) can create safety hazards that lead to costly and, in some same cases, deadly collisions between aircraft and animals.

A report from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in 2015 alone wildlife strikes would ding the US civil aviation industry about $229 million in direct costs and require more than 69,000 hours of aircraft downtime. But despite lingering memories of the 2009 bird strike near New York’s LaGuardia Airport that led to the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Cody Baciuska of Loomacres Wildlife Management says “Passengers should not be concerned about experiencing a strike the next time they fly.”

His confidence comes from the fact that airports are aggressive about managing and monitoring wildlife and constantly network with each other about best practices for deploying a wide variety of tools that include everything from visual and auditory deterrents, fencing, netting and spikes to lasers and all manner of pyrotechnics

In 1999, Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers was the first airport to add a Border collie to it wildlife management team to help shoo away birds that might otherwise nest and roost on airport property. (The current dog is named Echo; previous ones were Jet, Radar, Sky and Aero.)

In 2007, Seattle-Tacoma International was the world’s first airport to install an avian radar system to monitor potentially hazardous bird activity near the airport.

Elsewhere, airports team up with airlines, environmental groups, community volunteers and others to humanely trap, relocate and resettle raptors such as hawks, ospreys and owls.

On the east coast United Airlines, Audubon International and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey work together to trap American kestrels (a climate-threatened small falcon) at Newark Liberty International Airport and send them to new homes on area golf courses with more welcoming habitats.

Each year Seattle-Tacoma International Airport carefully collects and relocates fuzzy baby chicks from the nests of resident red-tailed hawks.

“We actually climb the trees and take the chicks out of the nest and take them up north where we raise them to imprint on a different location,” said Mikki Viehoever, the wildlife biologist for the Port of Seattle.

Portland International Airport, located on the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and along a Pacific migratory flight path for birds, has a very active raptor translocation program.

“Trapped raptors are taken to suitable release sites in Oregon & Washington by car or plane,” said Nick Atwell, wildlife manager for the Port of Portland. “We’ve partnered with Alaska Airlines for transport to northern Washington with the intent of increasing the distance from PDX.”

Atwell and his team tag and band each bird they relocate and keep an online database of sightings. “We want to track the success or failure of the program,” said Atwell. “And find out if a bird comes back to the airport and inform other airports what might be the best distance for translocating animals.”

Still, wildlife happens.

Some airports keep special vacuums in their tool sheds or a beekeeper on speed-dial to remove bees that sometimes swarm on airplane wings.

In January 2017, a 15-foot dead whale washed up near the end of a runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. “We worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to remove it,” said Laura Francoeur, chief wildlife biologist for the Port authority of New York and New Jersey, “Because you don’t want to leave a dead whale there to attract scavengers.”

Each year during nesting season for Diamondback terrapins, Fancoeur and her team also monitor the turtles migrating between a nearby wildlife refuge and the shores of Jamaica Bay. In past years, hundreds of turtles marched – slowly – across a runway, causing planes to be delayed. Now plastic barriers keep most of the turtles out of harm’s way, while staff swoop in to gather up and relocate any terrapins that insist on taking the shortcut.

Photo_Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

In addition to capturing and relocating alligators – some more than 9 feet long – at some southern airports, wildlife biologists and wildlife technicians from the USDA’s Wildlife Services unit help keep a zoo’s worth of wildlife away from taxiways and runways. Their ‘highlight’ list includes Nile Monitor Lizards, pythons, porcupines (whose quills can damage airplane tires) and loons.

Courtesy USDA Wildlife Services

“What most people may not know about loons is that they are unable to walk on land,” said USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa. Loons may land on a wet runway believing they’re landing on water and are then unable to get back up. “Our employees have had to physically pick loons up in order to release them,” said Espinosa.

At some coastal airports oysters, clams and other shellfish have become an issue, requiring teams to go out with sweepers.

“During low tides, gulls and other birds go hunting for shellfish and then drop them on open areas, such as runways, to crack them open,” said Espinosa, “While this is a great example of bird ingenuity, it is very dangerous for airports as sharp shell parts can puncture tires, get sucked into engines, damage aircraft and cause accidents.”

In Alaska, USDA Wildlife Biologists and Wildlife Technicians also help wrangle musk ox and caribou.

Musk Ox sometimes form defensive circles on the runways, said Espinosa and “And it can be very time consuming to get them out of the way.” Several hundred to several thousand caribou sometimes cross runways during migration. “It can be a beautiful sight, but also dangerous for human safety and air travel,” said Espinosa.

Last year salmon were spotted swimming across a flood-prone runway at Alaska’s Seward Airport and, after several days of storms, crew clearing snow at the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiaġvik (the city formerly known as Barrow) came upon a 450-pound Bearded Seal lounging on the runway.

Courtesy Scott Babcock, Alaska Dept of Transportation Public-Facilities

The runway is about a quarter mile from the ocean, but airport staff believe the seal made a mile-long trek around the runway to get to its chosen spot.

“Animal control was called, and they loaded the seal onto a sled and pulled it off the runway with a snow machine,” said Meadow Bailey, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, “We refer to this as the day we warned of ‘low sealings’ at the airport.”

Have you spotted wildlife at your airport? Please share the story in the comments section below.

Worms to whales: the wildlife that shows up at airports

Bearded Seal on runway at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiaġvik (fomerly Barrow) Courtesy Scott Babcock, Alaska Dept of Transportation & Public Facilities.

My “At the Airport” column on USA Today this month is all about the wildlife that shows up – uninvited – at airports.

The story details some of the visitors, such as the seal (above) that showed up on the runway during a snowstorm at Alaska’s Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Utqiaġvik (fomerly Barrow) last year, the wily coyotes that can climb over barbed wire fences and the loons, carbiou, alligators and, mostly, birds that airport wildlife management teams must deal with.

This moose stopped by Jackson Hole Airport in October 2015. Photo courtesy Philip Bollman

To report the story I did a ride along with Nick Atwell, wildlife manager at the Portland International Airport, and talked with wildlife biologists who work with airports around the country. You can read the full column – From worms to whales, the wildlife that worries airports – at the USA Today site, but here are few more fun photos.

Coyotes chased this bear cub across a Colorado airport. USDA Wildlife Services tranquilized, tagged and relocated the cub. Photo_USDA Wildlife Services

 

The USDA’s Wildlife Services staff helps capturs and relocate alligators – some up to 9 feet long – at many southern airports. Courtesy USDA

Buffalo standing outside terminal doors at Yellowstone Airport. Courtesy Jeff Kadlec.

Wild animals at airports

I’m having a great time learning about the wide variety of wild animals that airports around the country have encountered and the creative ways they have come up with to keep them away from airplanes.

My research and all the photos airports have been sending along will end up in my At the Airport column on USA Today  later this month but sharing a few snaps with you today.

Above – a Great Horned Owl that was caught in a trap meant for smaller birds at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and below, a nine-foot alligator wrangled by the USDA at a military base in Georgia.

Airports tightening the leash on animals in terminals

Thinking of taking dog your pet or emotional support animal with you on your next flight? Be sure to check the airline -and the airport – rule books on that. As I describe in my ‘At the Airport’ column this month for USA TODAY, airports are following the lead of airlines and making new and more restricted rules for animals in the terminals.  Below is a slightly edited version of that column.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport pet relief area

There were plenty of “Aw, that’s so cute” social media posts last month when Eleanor Rigby, one of two service dog vest-wearing golden retrievers accompanying a passenger to Philadelphia on American Airlines, went into labor and gave birth to eight puppies in a gate area at Tampa International Airport.

(Courtesy TPA Airport)

No one was charmed, however, by the report a passenger at Los Angeles International Airport posted last February about a woman who replied “They have people for that” when asked if she planned to clean up after her dog did its ‘business’ on the airport floor.

Yet both stories are examples of a wide range of animal-related incidents that are forcing airports to expend extra resources and causing them to rethink policies governing animals in the terminals.

In the Tampa airport puppy case, cute became controversy when animal rights advocates and people with certified service animals began questioning if the vested dogs were legitimate service animals and asking why a very pregnant dog – be it a certified service animal, emotional support animal or pet – had been allowed to fly so close to its due date.

TPA officials point out that airports have no say over the animals that airlines allow on board.

“We were just there to help with the situation and are happy the puppies were delivered safely,” said TPA spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

Tampa International Airport hasn’t yet tallied up its exact costs for having paramedics, operations, communications and maintenance staff spend several hours attending to Eleanor Rigby and her new puppies during the airport delivery, “But having paramedics assisting a dog in labor could have potentially impacted a medical emergency on another side of the airport,” said Nipps.

Cleaning up: the rules and the messes 

As had been widely reported, airlines have seen a sharp rise in the number of animals traveling on planes. Some are ticketed pets, but many are pets that have been flying for free thanks to loopholes in rules governing the transport of emotional or psychiatric support animals.

American Airlines reported a 40% increase in the number of service and emotional support animals on flights between 2016 and 2017. United Airlines cited a 75% increase year over year.

Like airlines, airports have had to make accommodations for all the extra animals and, like airlines, airports have been logging increased instances of pets and emotional support animals that are untrained, unruly and dangerous to others in the terminals.

“We find them making messes on the airport carpet, interfering with the airport’s working dogs and, on occasion, biting other dogs or passengers,” said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for Portland International Airport.

Last December, a 5-year old girl ended up in the hospital after being bit in the face by an uncrated dog waiting for a flight with its owner at Portland International Airport. And a local TV station filming for a report on dog issues at PDX caught a schnauzer in the act of peeing on the airport’s brand new $13 million carpet.

Many airports hope revised policies for flying with emotional support animals recently rolled out by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United and others will cut down on the number of animals in airport terminals.

“The way we see it, if the airlines put more specific and stricter guidelines in place to manage the issue, it will take care of the problem in the airport too,” said TPA’s Emily Nipps, “So we support the airlines in tightening up the policies.”

For its part, Airports Council International-North America, the membership organization which represents and advises most U.S. airports, is urging the Department of Transportation to clarify its rules.

Currently, there’s confusion for both passengers and airports because airlines are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, which recognizes emotional support animals, while airports are covered by a different act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which does not recognize emotional support animals.

“We want DOT to clearly articulate that airports are within their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to require anyone bringing an emotional support animal through an airport terminal to house those animals in carriers, so they don’t interfere with other passengers, employees, staff or other animals including service animals and TSA and police canine units,” said Thomas Devine, ACI-NA’s general counsel.

DOT is currently taking comments through July 9 on proposed rulemaking related to traveling by air with service animals and ACI-NA will join the public and other industry groups in filing comments.

But at least one airport is not waiting for DOT to get around to making its final ruling.

After consulting with other airports, including San Francisco International, Detroit Metropolitan and Fairbanks International Airport, Portland International Airport plans to issue new rules aimed at clearly defining the different categories of traveling animals—pets, emotional support animals and service animals—and clarifying how the airport expects travelers to care for these animals while in the terminal.

“We see many people bring their pets when meeting and greeting people in the terminal. That’s a no-no,” said PDX spokesperson Kama Simonds, “Pets should not be at the airport unless they are traveling or being shipped.”

The new PDX rules will remind travelers that, like pets, the airport requires emotional support animals heading for airplanes to be in carriers while in the terminal. If too large for a carrier, those emotional support animals must be kept on short leashes.

And if a traveler’s animal urinates or defecates on the floor at PDX, the new rules will require an owner to remain at the site until someone from the janitorial staff arrives.

During July, airport operations staff at PDX will start spreading the word about the new rules. Come August, though, warnings and citations for bad dogs could be issued, with possible fines of up to $250.