pet travel

Now there’s a pig on duty at SFO Airport


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.


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’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.


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)

Cyber Monday flight deals


Don’t put away that credit card just yet. Virgin America (and other airlines) are still rolling out Cyber Monday airfare deals.

Virgin America’s Cyber Monday deal is good for you – and for dogs:

The carrier’s #TinyDogsTinyFares will offer up to 30 percent off fares nationwide. Use code: TINYFARES.

In addition to giving you the discount, Virgin America is also donating $10 per ticket booked on during the sale to San Francisco Animal Care and Control (SF ACC), the ASPCA and Animal Haven.

On Cyber Monday, Virgin America is also making another “Operation Chihuahua” airlift and flying 24 Chihuahuas from San Francisco to New York so they can be adopted. Seems that there’s an overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California shelters and lots of people seeking to adopt small dogs on the east coast.

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)


Check your suitcase for Chihuahuas

On the TSA Blog each Friday you’ll find a report on the firearms, weapons and other prohibited – and often really strange – things found at airport checkpoints and in checked bags.


This week, for example, the TSA found 55 firearms at airport checkpoints. 51 of those firearms were loaded and 13 had rounds chambered.

The fact that so many people just ‘forget’ they’ve got a gun, especially a loaded gun, in their carry-on is always alarming. But Friday’s report that TSA officers at New York’s LaGuardia Airport found a chihuahua inside a checked bag is mostly amusing.

According to the TSA, officers found the dog inside the suitcase while they were resolving a checked baggage alarm. TSA had the airline track down the suitcase owner, who said she had no idea the dog was in there and that the dog – a 7 year old chihuahua – must have climbed into the suitcase as it was being packed.