Airports are Going to the Dogs

Let’s face it. Airports can be stressful places, whether people are travelling for business or pleasure. Increased airport security, longer lines, more crowded airplanes and other factors continue to make travel by air increasingly more stressful.

CPP, a UK company with 30 years’ experience helping customers manage the complexities of modern life, looked into the stresses associated with airport travel and found some interesting things passengers worry about when travelling.

Of the 2,005 people CPP surveyed, 42 per cent said airports make them feel stressed and close to one quarter (23%) find the prospect of getting on their flight anxiety inducing and stressful.

The findings highlight that people tend to worry about a lot of things, but the top stressors for surveyed travelers include:

  1. Delayed flights (47%)
  2. Missing a flight (37%)
  3. Running late (37%)
  4. Losing belongings or travel documents (29%)

The survey results indicate that the less control people have over circumstances surrounding their travel, the more they tend to worry. Crowded environments, timing issues and departure and connection deadlines, and cumulative stress from life in general, all contribute to a person’s overall stress level when traveling. The full results of the insightful CPP survey can be found here.

With so many anxious and stressed travelers today, innovative airports are unleashing new programs to help passengers relieve some stress and put a smile on their faces in airport terminals.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the sixth busiest airport in the world, launched its new program, PUP (Pets Unstressing Passengers) at about a month ago with the goal of providing a less stressful airport environment for the millions of travelers who fly in and out of LAX annually. With 30 dogs and volunteer handlers, the LAX program is the largest of its kind.

LAX Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said, “It’s a great opportunity to spread happiness to millions of travelers from all over the world. Expect to see the PUP’s on a regular basis in Terminals at LAX.”

The program is a partnership between LAX and Therapy Dogs, Inc., an organization that has been spreading smiles and joy to people in hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes, etc. since 1990.

 

At LAX, the volunteers and their dogs both go through training in advance of their formal deployment. The canines visit LAX terminal departure gates with their handlers and provide comfort to passengers, often with a swift wag of the tail or a lick on the hand. The volunteer handlers provide assistance or airport information to passengers.

According to Katherine Alvarado, LAX spokesperson, "We bring these pups to the boarding gates to help alleviate passengers' stress level and bring down their blood pressure.”

While the program is new to LAX, two other airports in the country – Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Miami International Airport (MIA) – already have successful canine/handler stress management initiatives in place.

SJC is credited with being the first airport in the country to launch its unique program nearly a dozen years ago. "It was started just after 9/11 when a lot of travelers were extremely anxious about taking to the skies again," explained Rosemary Barnes, SJC public information officer. "We have a robust chaplain program and a lot of the chaplains had their own personal dogs they would take on strolls around the terminals."

That concept evolved successfully and today, it is a welcome sight to see Kyra Hubis and her friendly golden retriever Henry James, doling out doses of pet and human therapy to passengers. Henry James is one of 11 volunteer dog and human pairings volunteering their time to calming fears and reducing stress levels for travelers.

According to Barnes, the program at SJC is a successful model that other airports can replicate. SJC continues to be very supportive of the all-volunteer program and facilitates access to secure areas for the handlers and their therapy canines, so they can interact with passengers in gate areas.

There is no question that dogs have an uncanny ability to put smiles on people’s faces. I applaud the successful airport programs that have the ability to minimize stress and make the travel experience a bit more pleasant and comfortable. Like many people, I really miss my dog when I travel and love the chance to share a quick moment with a faithful and friendly canine companion as they make their way through the airport terminals. I hope to see more airports implementing such innovative programs for the benefit of travelers.

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Agnes Huff, PhD, has more than 25 years of experience providing specialized strategic public relations and marketing, crisis management and business consulting to a diverse group of clients in the aviation industry. In 1995, she founded Agnes Huff Communications Group (AHCG) an integrated marketing and PR consulting firm headquartered in Los Angeles. Clients include national and international airports and airlines, government entities, travel and tourism organizations, and transportation companies, among other high-profile industry clients. She welcomes feedback and will respond to comments at ahuff@ahuffgroup.com. More information on AHCG is available at www.ahuffgroup.com.

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