Many airports now have animal relief areas. Often, the areas are just a square of bright green astroturf out in some corner of the concourse with a plastic red fire hydrant. Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport is the first airport I’ve seen where the animal relief zone is a separate room with a closing door.
I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that more airports adopt it. Obviously, the room isn’t in deference to the privacy interests of dogs, who don’t seem to care much who can see them while they do their business — or where they do it, for that matter. Instead, it’s a nod to the sensibilities of those of us who are traveling and don’t particularly want to see a squatting dog 50 feet away from where we’re sipping our Starbucks Cafe Grande and trying to tune out the blaring CNN broadcast from the TV sets overhead.
More and more people are traveling with “comfort animals” these days, and the animals are coming in all shapes and sizes. As I moved through the Phoenix airport yesterday, I saw more dogs than ever before, ranging in size from a Shih Tzu clutched by her human pal to a fully grown standard poodle striding down the concourse. I’ve even read about passengers traveling with miniature horses as “comfort animals” — which seems to really push the “comfort animal” envelope and show just how blurry the lines have become.
With the undeniable increase in animals in airports, airport facilities need to change to keep pace with the trend — and obviously making sure that there are places where the “comfort animals” can take care of their own comfort has to be part of that process. It shouldn’t be an issue, because airports always have plenty of space and seem to be under construction at all times — so why not a simple room to let dogs, cats, miniature horses, cockatoos, and the rest of the traveling menagerie answer the call of nature?
Delta believes that the influx of “comfort animals” is getting out of hand, and reports that there have been incidents in which the animals have exhibited aggressive behavior, including growling and biting, have fouled airport terminals like the incident I witnessed, and have even attacked a passenger. The Delta statement also said that passengers “have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders [pictured above], snakes, spiders and more.” Now Delta will require that passengers seeking to bring animals on board present evidence of the animals’ good health and vaccinations, sign a document confirming that their animals can behave in a closed airplane cabin, and presumably demonstrate that they really need to have the animals board the plane with them in the first place.
I’ve got no problem, of course, with visually impaired people using guide dogs, which are always well behaved, but I agree with another statement that Delta made: “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.” The reality is that people are pushing the envelope with their animals, just as people are pushing the envelope in claiming “disabilities” that entitle them to board before the rest of us. Anyone who has traveled much recently has seen the explosion of animals in airports, and I’m confident that most people have witnessed unpleasant incidents like the one I saw, or had to endure barking dogs while waiting for a delayed plane, or watched two “comfort” dogs growling at each other at a gate.
I’m a big fan of dogs, but they really don’t belong in airports, or in the passenger compartments of airplanes. And that goes double for “comfort turkeys,” gliding possums, spiders, snakes, and the rest of the modern airport zoo.