Fluffy and Fido Find Relief at Nation’s Airports

At more than 80 airports, every dog has its day (or at least a few precious minutes) to take care of business

By Blue Sky Staff

Published July 8, 2019

Read Time: 4 mins


Linda Schepps was on her way back to Brunswick, Georgia, after a three-day visit to Pittsburgh. She wasn’t with her husband, but she wasn’t traveling alone. The other member of the family made the trip: Freddie, her black and brown 1-year-old miniature dachshund.

As they made their way to the gate, Schepps realized she had a problem.

Freddie had to … um … go.

Luckily for Schepps, she wasn’t far from a place where Freddie could, well, do his business. Inside the airport.

Like children, animals can be a handful for travelers. Today, more than 80 airports across the country have built relief areas for pets before they accompany their owners through security.  And a growing number, including Pittsburgh International Airport, have added them post-security as well.

PIT’s airside relief area, opened in July 2011, was one of the nation’s first. Located near the entrance to Concourse D, it features artificial turf, bags and disposal containers, a spray hose, and even a mock fire hydrant to offer encouragement to a dog in need.

Schepps (and especially Freddie) were happy to have access to the area.

“My husband works long hours and Freddie is too young to leave at home for this long so he has to come with me,” she said.

“I make sure he relieves himself before we leave the house and I try not to feed or give him too much water before his flight. Having this amenity is very necessary and also allows me to take him out of the crate to stretch his legs a bit.”

Airports have long been trying to make travel easier for pet lovers as well as those traveling with service and comfort dogs.

But the big push for pet relief came in August 2016, when a federal regulation required airports that serve more than 10,000 passengers a year to establish at least one wheelchair-accessible animal relief area inside each terminal. Although designed to accommodate passengers traveling with service animals, the rule benefited all pet owners, therapy dogs and handlers working with law enforcement dogs.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport’s fenced-in, bone-shaped dog park is known as The Bone Yard. (Photo credit: Phoenix Sky Harbor)

Welcome to the Paw Pad

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has nine areas for pets to stretch their legs, drink water and take potty breaks, including four indoor areas and five outdoor sites with names like The Pet Patch and The Paw Pad.  Near Terminal 4 is a fenced-in, bone-shaped dog park called The Bone Yard.

Denver International Airport has an indoor pet relief area that features artificial turf flooring, with a drainage system and an artificial rock. To bring the outside in, each room features a wall mural showcasing owners and their dogs enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors.

The growth in dog relief areas comes at a time when more of our four-legged friends are taking flight. In 2018, the number of pets carried by U.S. airlines increased 11 percent from 2017, to 784,000, according to Airlines for America, an industry lobbying organization. The number of service animals increased 24 percent, to 281,000, in that same period, and the number of emotional-support animals jumped 56 percent, to 751,000.

Most airlines, including American and Southwest, allow small vaccinated domestic cats and dogs to travel domestically in appropriate pet carriers inside the passenger cabin and larger pets to be checked and safely transported in the belly of the plane.

Passengers typically pay a fee each way per pet carrier. Airline policies differ; travelers should check with airlines when planning to travel with an animal.

Denver International Airport’s pet relief area features artificial turf flooring, with a drainage system. (Photo Credit: Denver International Airport)

Lucky Dogs

Pet resorts also are on the rise at many airports, either on airport property or just a short drive away.

They come with luxury amenities and clever names: Now Boarding, at Minneapolis-St. Paul; The Pawington, at San Francisco International; and Bark & Zoom at Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

Paradise 4 Paws has opened at Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago Midway and O’Hare airports. Travelers can drop off their pets and get shuttled via SUV to the airport terminal.

The resorts are open 24/7 for the convenience of business travelers, families and even airport employees who want to drop off their dogs for day care.

Paradise 4 Paws is a pet resort with locations in airports including Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago Midway and O’Hare. (Photo courtesy of Paradise 4 Paws)

Each dog gets its own suite with bedding; scheduled play groups, which include splashing in a dog-bone shaped pool; nightly check-ins and room service feedings. For the extra spoiled pet, pet parents can add a la carte services, such as TV access, cuddle time, outdoor hikes, or windows with rocking chairs in an upgraded suite.

Cats can stay there, too, in their own specialized wing pampered with tuna treats and laser tag time. They even have access to Paradise 4 Paw’s state-of-the-art Adventure Jungle, where they can explore the climbing trees and watch the fish in the large aquarium.

Pet owners can access a webcam to see just how much fun their animals are having while they are gone.

“People’s dogs and cats are their babies,” said Jen Leemis, chief marketing officer for Paradise 4 Paws. “Our pet parents know their pet is having a great vacation experience while mom and dad are traveling. (They) have a real appreciation for being able to fly right in and be reunited with their fur baby as soon as possible.”

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