Being stranded in an airport is no fun. Being stranded in an airport with an animal can be a nightmare. Four-legged passengers should not have their already heightened stress extend to actual suffering.
Unfortunately, layovers, delays and flight cancellations have become a regular part of air travel. Airports need to adapt and realize that the animals in their terminals are as deserving of consideration as the rest of the paying passengers.
And make no mistake, they are paying passengers. Depending on the itinerary and destination, Air Canada charges between $50 to $100 one-way for a pet accompanying its owner. South of the border, United Airlines charges $125 each way for a travelling pet. Other airlines charge fees within that range.
Most major airports are cities unto themselves. Access to the outside and fresh air is a near impossibility on a layover. This is especially true in an airport with multiple inter-connected terminals. Almost all airports in Canada and the United States provide designated pet-relief areas to those travelling with service animals. These areas are also open to passengers with domestic pets.
The problem is that these pet-relief areas are outside the terminals at usually the farthest location beyond the baggage area. It means leaving the security zone and having to be screened again – not a small inconvenience given the often lengthy backlog. In other words, a one-hour or more round trip to the pet-relief area is not unusual – especially at the larger airports. This is not always a realistic option for most travellers.
One major North American airport trying to do it right is Toronto’s Pearson International (YYZ). They have spacious, open-air pet-relief areas outside the departures and arrivals levels. The areas are equipped with artificial turf that gives the feeling to pet and owner of a genuine respite from the cramped and unfriendly confines of a carrier.
It’s a good start – it’s better than nothing. But it’s not enough because those areas still require pet and owner to exit the security side of the airport and be re-screened after each visit. One can quickly see how during a delay of indeterminate length that this can provoke stress and suffering on a high-flying. four-legged traveller.
Two airports in Canada have taken the next step – and it’s a major step forward – in alleviating the stress of travel for pet and owner by providing pet relief areas on the post-security side of the airport. In April, Calgary International (YYC) joined Vancouver International (YVR) in being the first – and so far only – Canadian airports to offer this absolute necessity.
One can only hope that more will follow as the numbers of passengers travelling with pets continues to grow. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandated that all air terminals serving more than 10,000 daily passengers provide a post-security pet relief area by August 2016.
Since that date, across the United States, all major airports are slowly rolling out the much-welcomed and needed post-security pet restrooms to the great –ahem – relief of our four-legged friends. The same should happen in Canada.
This sounds to some – mostly those who don’t have pets – as a luxury. But when you consider what’s being asked for, it’s nothing of the kind. By denying this post-security pet-relief area, airport authorities are forcing pets to urinate and defecate inside their carriers and then be consigned to lie in their own waste. This is an indignity to which no animal should be subject.
And that is really the issue – the acceptance and acknowledgment that living creatures deserve our consideration, assistance, empathy and understanding. Domestic pets in particular are completely dependent on the humans in their company to provide a suitable, safe and secure environment.
Hopefully, as we mature in our understanding of how to treat all living beings, this environment will come to include all Canadian airports as well. Vancouver and Calgary have it right – it’s time for the rest to follow.
Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.