On a recent morning, Jackie, age 8, waited patiently in the security line of Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport.
When it was his turn to walk through the metal detector, he did so quietly and without incident. And after he set off the alarm, he patiently allowed a Transportation Security Administration screener to pat him down. He hardly reacted.
Jackie is a dog. A Doberman to be specific.
He likes eating carrots, barking at squirrels and lounging in human laps.
He is also key to
an ambitious plan to turn around an airport that historically receives some of the worst marks in passenger satisfaction surveys. (Travel + Leisure magazine called it America’s second-worst airport in 2012.) Beginning today, LAX will unveil its “Pets Unstressing Passengers” program, or PUP, to use the acronym preferred by airport officials. The goal: To keep waiting passengers calm.
So far, about 30 handlers have signed up. They’re all volunteers, and for two-hour shifts they’ll walk from gate to gate, introducing passengers to their dogs. For now, there might only be two or three dogs at the airport at any one time. But eventually, airport officials would like to have one in each terminal at all times. And petting is encouraged.
Airport officials say this is the most intense doggy rollout ever attempted, noting that the only other facility with a similar de-stressing program – Mineta San Jose International Airport – has fewer than a dozen dogs.
Don’t worry: The airport has cleared the program with its risk managers and with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. And each animal is certified by Therapy Dogs Inc., a national organization with more than 12,000 approved handler/dog teams.
No program can be perfect, but program coordinator Heidi Huebner said the dogs – and their owners – are well-trained and docile. And all should be able to last an entire shift without an accident, although the airport has four small patches of fake outdoor grass just in case. (They’re called doggy relief stations.)
“The dogs know they’re working,” Huebner said. “The volunteers are very good about making sure they go potty before. If a dog has to go, the owner is going to take it outside. ”
Led through the airport last week by owner Marwick Kane, Jackie appeared to be enjoying himself. During the trial run, he was patient – even when children tried to pull his tail. Dog and owner slowly walked through the Terminal 6 seating areas, engaging with passengers.