Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Tue December 22 2015

United Uses Comfort Dogs to Easy Holiday Travel Stress

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | December 22, 2015

United Uses Comfort Dogs to Easy Holiday Travel Stress

TravelPulse file photo

Holiday travel is quite stressful. Anyone who has spent time in an airport in the second half of December or the first few days of January knows that this is a fact. This year, major airports like LAX and Boston Logan are telling people to arrive at least two hours early to check in for domestic flights because heavy traffic is expected every day. 

Taking away the stress during holiday travel

Some travelers may be able to avoid the worst by opting for a redeye or perhaps flying on a holiday itself (Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve) rather than during peak times two or three days before the holiday. This is not possible for everyone, however. Most travelers simply have to deal with the large crowds and extended wait times so that they can get to their holiday celebrations on time.

This can be stressful whether or not you are an experienced flier. This year, airports and airlines are taking some steps to make the whole experience a little easier on your blood pressure measurements. Chicago O’Hare, for example, has put up photo booths where people can take a few minutes to pose with holiday-themed props. Chicago’s other hub, Midway, will be pouring complimentary hot chocolate for some passengers in the days leading up to Christmas.

Airport dogs 

United Airlines is taking the idea of de-stressing airport activities to another level. The carrier is bringing more than 200 comfort dogs to seven airports around the country. The specially-trained pooches, which are part of the airline’s United Paws program, are meant to bring a little bit of fun and frivolity to the otherwise chaotic experience of traveling over the holidays.    

Why dogs? A veterinary consultant, Walter Woolf, who worked on the United Paws idea with the airline explained the benefits in a press release: "Research shows that just petting a dog releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and affection, and also decreases levels of stress, helps us breathe easier and lowers our blood pressure." 

Not a new idea

The United Paws dogs will walk through the airport. Your best chance for a quick petting session is at one of United’s gates. The program will run through tomorrow at seven airports: Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington/Dulles. The dogs will be in the terminals from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow. 

Not traveling during the holidays? LAX has a year-round program called  Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP). PUP therapy dogs wander the terminals and stop at gates to provide comfort for nervous passengers. The dogs’ handlers can also give information about the airport.  

This program is run on a volunteer basis using privately-owned therapy dogs that are already certified to work in schools or nursing homes. If successful, United Paws will probably be back next year. It has gotten a fair bit of positive press coverage for United, so in addition to being good for stressed fliers, it is also good advertising for the airline. 


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