The pet relief station is not a place to play, and other rules for pet travelers

Andrea Sachs | The Washington Post

Dog ownership and air passenger numbers are in the megamillions. When the two groups converge, airports can start to resemble dog shows, with canines prancing through the terminals as if they were at Madison Square Garden and not JFK Airport.

The airline industry’s rules for traveling with a dog in the cabin are crystal clear: The animal must remain in its zipped carrier at all times or passengers could face the consequences. Last month, Southwest removed a traveler and her puppy for allegedly not complying. The protocols in airports are fuzzier. Each facility sets its own policies, which may not be prominently posted or rigorously upheld.

“I would say that you’re supposed to keep the animal in a carrier when you’re inside the airport, but some airports are more lax about it,” said Brandi H. Munden, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. “But then again, you have to keep in mind the rules of the airport. You do run the risk of somebody coming up to you and saying, ‘Hey, that’s not okay.’”

Travelers with pets have a greater responsibility than passengers who are only tethered to their rolling bags. Owners need to make sure that their animal is safe while being respectful of the people and other animals using the airport.

“We know that it’s your best friend and you want them everywhere with you, but be courteous,” Munden said.

We spoke with pet travel experts on how to be a good dog owner when transiting through airports with your four-legged companion.

Before you go, acclimate your pet

To avoid a meltdown at the airport — whining, simpering, clawing — owners should acclimatize their pet to its carrier weeks before departure day.

Stephanie Borns-Weil, an assistant clinical professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said to slowly work up to your total flight time, so your dog knows what, say, three hours in a carrier feels like. For advanced prep, expose your pup to the case in motion.

“I gradually increase the challenge and put the carrier in a moving object like a car,” she said. “So by the time they get to the airport, they’re already comfortable in their carrier.”

Whether you zip up your pet in the car or upon arrival at the airport depends on your pet’s temperament. Timid or anxious dogs might find the commotion at the departures entrance overwhelming and attempt to flee. If you park in a lot, make sure to enclose your pet for the shuttle ride, for its safety and the comfort of other passengers.

Leash or carrier? Know your airport’s rules.

At the airport, check the website or ask at the information desk about whether your dog needs to be in its carrier at all times, minus bathroom breaks. On its website, Memphis International Airport clearly states that non-service animals must be confined in their carrier inside the facility. At Los Angeles International Airport, pets can stay out of their carriers as long as they are leashed. The three major airports run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Newark, LaGuardia and JFK) allow leashed dogs outside, but request travelers enclose them once they step indoors.

“It’s okay to have them out of the carrier outside of the building, but once you go inside the building, it’s much better to have them inside of the carrier, mostly because it makes it easier to get through the TSA security screening checkpoint process,” saidSarah McKeon, general manager of New Jersey airports.

Munden errs on the side of caution. She keeps her dog, Bruno, a West Highland white terrier, in his enclosure to protect him from the roller derby of luggage wheels, the cacophony of noises, the oblivious walkers who might not notice a tiny dog at their feet and the eager hands that pet without permission.

If you plan to visit an airport lounge, keep your dog in its carrier. At Capitol One lounges, for instance, pets must stay with their owners in their sealed totes for the safety and comfort of the staff and guests. The same policy applies at the American Airlines lounge at Reagan National Airport.

Unlike their human counterparts, the lounges do not lay out treats or beds for canines. You’ll need to fly private for those perks.

Watch out for overstimulation

“While your dog may be great with you and your family, the airport might be too much stimulation for them,” Munden said. “They may not be great with random people wanting to walk up and pet them. There may be kids that don’t necessarily know how to pet a dog.”

If you keep your dog out, hold them close to your side and keep an eye on body language. Borns-Weil said a low tail, retracted ears and a lot of white around the eyes could signify stress. A raised tail, relaxed shoulders and open face and mouth mean your pup is enjoying the airport jaunt.

If you need to go up or down a level, use the stairs or elevator but never the escalator, which could endanger your dog. If there are other people in the elevator, consider placing your dog in the carrier and ask the other riders whether they are comfortable sharing space with a pooch.

Finally, be careful about your pet interacting with other dogs or travelers. You don’t want to spark a conflict with either species.

Don’t send your pet through the X-ray machine

In the security line, avoid any lanes with drug- or bomb-sniffing working dogs. After the Transportation Security Administration officer checks your ID, remove your pet from its carrier and send the empty bag through the X-ray machine. Walk, with a leash, or carry your pup through the body scanner, depending on how the officers direct you. They may require an additional pat-down because of hardware on the leash or harness.

Never send your dog through the dark tunnel of radiation, a message that needs repeating, because TSA officers have seen animal scans on their screens. Also, remember to dump your dog’s water bottle.

Dog relief areas should be all business

Since 2009, the Transportation Department has required airports to provide pet relief areas for service animals. In 2016, the agency added another provision: Airports that serve 10,000 passengers or more a year must offer these sites after security checkpoints so owners don’t have to dash outside for a potty break before boarding.

Because of these laws, most major airports have dog relief areas outside and in several terminals. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has 10 evenly divided between inside and out. JFK Airport is close behind with nine, in addition to its 4,000-square-foot Wooftop, an outdoor garden patio with views.

When Mary-Alice Pomputius traveled with Chloe, her cavalier King Charles spaniel, she would review airport dog relief areas for her blog, Dog Jaunt. She described one spot at Sea-Tac as “a zone of despair” in a phone interview and “seriously grim” online. (The airport has expanded its offerings since her 2009 critique.) At a minimum, relief stations are stocked with poop bags and a waste receptacle.

Some airports try to set the mood with a toy red hydrant and wall art that creates the illusion of being outside. “Some of ours are made to look like they’re in an outdoor setting or a park, so the passenger and the animal feel more comfortable in their surroundings,” McKeon said.

To avoid interrupting somebody’s business, wait outside until the last user has finished and exited. And don’t encourage play; this is not the time for your pup to roll around in the artificial grass.

“You want to get your job done and get out, because people are in a hurry,” Pomputius said.

Pet relief stations are usually outfitted with a hose and drain, a self-washing mechanism — or both. Memphis International Airport has self-washing silver hydrants. A canine restroom at Chicago Midway boasts an automatic flushing system for liquid waste, a mounted shower head with a hose for manual cleaning and a sink. The airport staff will rinse the area as well.

McKeon said the outdoor pet relief stations at Newark are washed down on a regular basis, especially when there has been little rain. Airport staff will sanitize the indoor spaces at least once per shift. Even with the frequent cleaning, passengers must be responsible and scoop.

“Clean it up and be courteous to the people that will use it after you,” Munden said.

Obviously, the same rule applies if your dog has an accident of any kind elsewhere in the airport. “I’ve seen somebody let their dog throw up on the carpet by the gate and not clean it up,” Munden said.

In addition, clean your pup with a doggy wipe, so your dog feels better and your seatmate won’t grouse about the stinky puppy smell wafting from the bag by your feet.

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post: Who’s a good boy? Hopefully, you and your dog at the airport.

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