Want to hang out with dogs while you wait for your flight?
Now you can at Punta Gorda Airport.
Of all the airports in our region, I wouldn’t have picked Punta Gorda’s as the one that needed to bring in therapy dogs to reduce stress.
The regional airport already has a reputation for convenience and ease. It’s the kind of place where you can park your car and walk straight into a terminal without taking a shuttle. The Allegiant Airlines and Frontier flights that take off and arrive are nonstop, so there’s no worry about having to make a connection. The security lines are manageable, and the airport is small enough that it’s almost impossible to get lost. You don’t need to take a tram to find your terminal like you do at Tampa International Airport.
You’re not going to miss your flight because you’re seven gates away waiting to pay your tab at Chili’s or because the barista at Starbucks is still making your latte.
It’s not that kind of airport.
In theory, its size should make traveling easy.
But there are often other things at play, Jennifer Smith, the airport’s executive assistant, told me.
That’s where the dogs come in.
I met up with “Fansee,” an English cream golden retriever, at ticketing on Monday at the program’s kickoff. Punta Gorda Airport is one of about 20 airports throughout the country that has partnered with volunteer therapy dogs as a way to ease travelers.
These dogs from Therapy K9’s of Southwest Florida — Charlotte County are trained to comfort people in high-stress situations such as hospitals, courtrooms and nursing homes.
Often travelers have more on their minds than a little nervousness. Smith reminded me that not everyone boarding these flights is going on a vacation. There are big business deals at play. There are loved ones being left behind. Children, particularly, may have a hard time with what’s on the other side of the runway. They could be traveling for a funeral or to visit a parent they might not always get to see.
You’re always leaving something behind when you get on an airplane.
And that got me thinking about my own family.
Like a lot of Southwest Floridians, there’s a large part of my life that’s a 1,000 miles away for most of the year.
My mother and I have had our share of rough goodbyes in 18 months since I left the Midwest for this job and a slice of paradise. I could see her cozying up to one of these dogs on her way out of town. She’d call it “sweetie” and “puppy,” and maybe just for a second she’d forget that there’s a solid two months between that moment and my next trip home. She loves dogs.
I’ve got a talent for switching into autopilot through the parking lot, security and inter-airport trams that it takes to get me to and from St. Louis. Still, it’s amazing how much time there is to think when you’re waiting at the gate. And how airport bars aren’t quite as distracting as they’re portrayed in movies.
I’m always wondering how long it will be before my next trip back and what I’ll miss in between. Having three feeble grandparents doesn’t make that load any easier. I dread the day I have to fly home for a funeral, and I know it’s coming.
Those thoughts would haunt me whether I was flying out of a small airport like Punta Gorda or giant like Tampa International. These are the kinds of things that you don’t put in your carry-on but that you still take with you on your flight.
“Fansee” and her friends can’t take them away.
But I have to imagine they can make the weight just a little bit easier.