San Francisco International Airport offers a range of facilities to make travel possible for travellers of all abilities. Access and inclusion programs are encouraging travellers to attempt air travel despite the many challenges travel can pose.
Going to a meeting after a 13 hour flight and only minutes after clearing immigration, I needed the meeting to be engaging to keep my attention. Meeting with Doug Yakel, Public Information Officer at San Francisco Airport, proved to be interesting and a pleasure but I’m sure even Doug would admit he is regularly upstaged by the Wag Brigade. Just look at that cute face below.
Guest services at San Francisco airport is focused on making travel easier for people of all abilities and as a result, offer a number of initiatives and programs to assist. Doug shared more about these so I can help spread the word.
THE WAG BRIGADE
Therapy dogs in airports became a thing after September 11 when travellers were experiencing high anxiety around air travel. Seeing the success experienced by the first airports that adopted the program, others soon followed in their footsteps, or in this case paw prints!
The Wag Brigade at San Francisco International Airport began six years ago when the airport partnered with The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to bring dogs certified through their Animal Assisted Therapy Program to roam the terminals.
The therapy animals need to be able to work in the dynamic airport environment, be patient and have the right temperament for the job, which means screening is rigorous. Many of the animals were already participating in therapy programs in hospitals before becoming part of the Wag Brigade. Some were even being used to alleviate stress in universities during finals week.
Currently, a dozen animals make up the Wag Brigade and I was lucky enough to meet two of them.
Benga is a perky Peke-a-Poo-Tzuzu. The mix of breeds in this bundle of joy makes her cuddly, interactive and the perfect dog to greet travellers at San Francisco International airport. In the short time I had with Benga I could tell that not only did she revel in her role, but she would be the perfect stress relief for travellers. She oozes love and charm.
Tzigan, pictured above, is a Bolognese (Italian Bichon). This white fluffy guy is pretty laid back but more than happy to accommodate loving pats and attention. It appeared nothing could faze this savvy airport pooch.
As you can imagine, the addition of a pig to the Wag Brigade has caused quite the media coverage worldwide. Lilou was sadly otherwise occupied when I was at the airport so I can’t speak of her personality. Luckily her profile says it all, “LiLou is the first certified piggy with SF SPCA AAT program. She is a proud city pig that brings smiles and positivity everywhere she goes. LiLou is hypoallergenic and knows a lot of tricks too. She can greet you with her snout or a wave, thank you with her shake, perform with her toy piano and bow at the end. LiLou also likes to twirl and can stand up on her back hooves.” As you’d expect of a celebrity, LiLou announces her appearances at the airport via her Instagram page.
The next addition to the Wag Brigade is to be a cat who is in the final stages of training. Duke should be joining the team soon.
Meeting with the volunteer humans who facilitate the visits of the Wag Brigade at the airport, it’s clear they not only have a love of their pooches, but they get pleasure from seeing the difference the animals make. Lesley, Tzigan’s owner, told me she witnesses a change in people’s mood when they meet Tzigan and she also shared some of the science behind animal interactions. A pat has been proven to lower blood pressure and a smile releases endorphins. Knowing this, San Francisco Airport’s guest services deploy the animals to areas of high stress, including waiting areas at the boarding gate when flights are delayed.
Guests interacting with the animals receive a trading card with the Wag Brigade member’s name, breed and personality traits. Keen travellers work toward collecting the entire set of cards.
READY SET FLY
San Francisco International Airport, in partnership with The Arc, hosts regular Ready Set Fly events to provide a real-world experience of plane travel for people and families with autism and developmental disabilities. By replicating the experience of flying it is hoped the program will ease the anxiety around travelling, while also providing the chance to learn about specific triggers for individuals. Those taking part go through the entire experience from arriving at the ticketing desk, going through security, waiting at the boarding gate and being exposed to loud speaker announcements. Some people need to take part several times before being ready to fly but there are some incredibly positive stories of how this program has assisted in making travel possible.
The MagnusCard mobile app can be downloaded in advance to assist visitors with their airport experience. For guests benefiting from knowledge of an airport prior to travel, San Francisco International Airport can be explored via a series of “card decks” customised for the airport.
I downloaded the app to take a look at the step-by-step instructions which include check in, security screening and aircraft boarding. It looks like a great way of preparing someone for travel. You can download the free app on Apple and Android devices at sfo.magnuscards.com.
San Francisco International Airport has a real focus on access and inclusion which I hope assists more people to travel in the future.
You can read more about San Francisco International Airport on their website.