Flying with a dog, whether a pet or a service animal, isn't the easiest undertaking. Travelers with larger dogs have to deal with the worrisome fact that their precious pet will have to fly in the cargo hold. Even if an airline allows smaller dogs to fly in the cabin, the trip could be less than straightforward. Will there be an issue at security? Where can the dog relieve itself once you get into the terminal? How will neighboring passengers respond?
But airports can be surprisingly accommodating to dogs, especially service animals. By law, every large airport in the United States has to have some sort of pet relief area in each terminal to accommodate people traveling with canine helpers.
Some hubs have even started programs geared towards travelers who need some four-legged support. These programs bring trained therapy canines into the terminal to sit with any passengers who want to take a break from the stresses of travel or who suffer from a fear of flying.
Here are 10 of the most dog-friendly airports in the U.S.
Denver International Airport
Denver International (DIA), the busiest hub airport in the Mountain West, features a state-of-the-art, in-terminal pet care facility. Paradise 4 Paws is a huge (25,000 square feet) venue that offers boarding for pets while their owners are traveling. The kennel area even has webcams so people can check in on their pooch online while they are on the road. Paradise also has 24-hour grooming services and indoor play areas. In addition to Denver, there are locations at Dallas Fort Worth International and at both of Chicago’s main airports.
The Colorado airport has pet relief rooms on each of its concourses. These are located on the airside after the TSA checkpoints. Owners who are in transit can walk their dogs without having to go back and forth through security, and those taking off from Denver can give their dog one final bathroom break before boarding. All these convenient in-terminal features make Denver one of the most dog-friendly airports in the country.
Minneapolis — Saint Paul
International is another hub with multiple pet relief areas. The Minnesota
airport has dedicated dog spaces outside both its terminals. The main terminal
(Terminal 1) also has a pet “restroom” after security. The airport will provide
an escort to take anyone with a service animal to an outdoor relief area if
MSP’s Now Boarding offers pet boarding services to travelers flying out of the airport, and it's open 24 hours a day. This facility is separate from the terminals, but pet owners get a perk when they leave their dog or cat here: Now Boarding offers 24-hour shuttle service to the terminal entrances. They will also pick you up when you get back so that you can be reunited with your pet as soon as possible after landing.
Detroit Metro is another major airport realizing the importance of catering to travelers with pets and service animals. The Michigan hub had service dogs in mind when it constructed a special airside pet relief area, which airport employees affectionately dubbed “Central Bark.” A section of this facility even has real grass.
DWC also has outdoor pet relief areas that are right next to the departures entrance (in the McNamara Terminal) and the arrivals area (in the North Terminal).
Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson
Hartsfield Jackson, the world’s busiest airport in terms of annual passenger volume, is another hub that makes pet owners feel welcome. The Atlanta airport has a 1,000-square-foot dog park near the ground transportation area of the domestic terminal.
Unlike most airport dog relief areas, this one actually deserves to be called a “park.” There are benches, complimentary biodegradable poop pickup bags and even a couple of charming dog sculptures. Since the park is fenced in, dogs can run without a leash and work off any excess energy before their flight. This summer, the airport announced it will be adding indoor pet areas on each of its concourses.
Reno Tahoe doesn't see as many transit passengers as the major hub airports, but it still deserves recognition for its pet-friendly attitude. Its outdoor dog facility, called the Bark Park, opened in 2004. The idea has proven so popular and gotten so much positive press for the airport that a second Bark Park was added in 2012. These parks are easy to find — just follow the artificial paw prints on the sidewalks.
The parks are surrounded by fences and are fully accessible, so they are ideal for service dogs as well as pets. As anyone who has been in Nevada during the summer will tell you, the sun can get very hot during the day. For this reason, the Bark Parks are covered with canopies.
San Diego International has several pet relief areas and a unique program that brings dogs into the airport to comfort nervous fliers. SAN has three designated spaces for pets and service dogs. This includes an indoor, post-security option for transit passengers and dogs who need one last pit stop before boarding.
San Diego’s Ready Pet Go program brings trained dogs into the terminal to comfort nervous fliers and provide stress relief to travelers who just had to deal with long security checkpoint wait times and some of the other drawbacks of the airport experience. The dogs and their handlers are volunteers who take two-hour shifts and simply roam the concourses interacting with passengers. The program is a partnership between the airport, the Traveler’s Aid Society of San Diego and Therapy Dogs, Inc.
The main airport in the nation’s capital features no less than five pet-friendly areas. Three of these are typical outdoor spaces with natural grass (near the departures/ticketing entrances and adjacent to baggage claim) and these outdoor parks have complimentary bags and waste bins.
Dulles also has two indoor facilities, one serving the A and B concourses and one for passengers using the C and D gates. These post-security areas are covered with artificial K-9 grass. Even though they are inside, their L-shaped layout means dogs have enough space to move around. When the dog relieves itself, the owner can push a button on the wall to automatically rinse the ground in that part of the dog park.
Phoenix Sky Harbor
Phoenix Sky Harbor offers more than a patch of grass for traveling pets and service dogs. The Arizona airport has five separate areas for dogs. Three pre-security parks sit outside of terminals 2, 3 and 4. The airport has even given these spaces canine-specific names: the Pet Patch (T2), Paw Pad (T3) and Bone Yard (T4).
Unfortunately, Sky Harbor has yet to open any post-security relief rooms. There are, however, additional areas near two of PHX’s Skytrain stations in the parking section of the airport.
Philadelphia International is arguably the easiest airport in the country to travel with pets or service animals. The reason: Pet relief areas are located in each and every terminal inside the Pennsylvania hub. That means, no matter which gate you happen to be flying out of, you'll be able to find a place for your dog not far away.
The airport took a unique approach to creating these in-terminal areas. The airlines that use the airport paid to convert seven 80-square-foot spaces into mini dog parks. The airport went ahead with the project despite critics who said the same seven plots could be used for retail spaces that could potentially earn millions in additional income for the airport each year
New York JFK
New York JFK is one of the most crowded (many call it “chaotic”) airports in the U.S. However, pet-owning travelers may find it welcoming — that is, if they fly out of the right terminal. JFK’s terminal 4 has its own pet bathroom, which is located right next to the “human” restrooms. Previously, pet owners who were in-transit or who wanted to make one final pit stop had to go back through the airport’s notoriously slow security.
JFK is also in the process of building a large terminal exclusively for pets. The cost of the project is $48 million. The investment could be worth the price when you consider that about 70,000 animals, from horses to dogs and cats, travel through the airport every year.