That Dog at the Airport Symbolizes Bad Customer Experience


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Are bad experiences transforming how people travel with their pets? Photo by Andy Omvik
Are bad experiences transforming how people travel with their pets? Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash

Experience is now the mother of invention.

In the digital era, your customers not only drive your marketing strategy; they define the evolution of your business. Customers want what they want. They’re also savvy enough to get it — at any cost — even when businesses throw obstacles in their paths.

You don’t have to look any farther than the nearest airport for a clear example. Everyone seems to be traveling with an emotional support animal (ESA) these days.

Are all of these travelers relying on these animals for the relief of symptoms like anxiety and depression? Or are some of them simply anxious about airline pet policies?

1 Dog Dead, Another Lost

It’s been an awful month for traveling pets.

A German shepherd was reunited with his family last week after United Airlines mistakenly sent him halfway across the world. The dog was supposed to land in Kansas City with his owners, but United flew him to Japan instead.

That mistake followed an incident earlier last week when a puppy died mid-flight after a flight attendant insisted his owner put him in an overhead bin.

Both of those owners played by the rules, identifying their dogs as pets, paying a fee, and transporting them accordingly.

The puppy was in an airline-approved carrier, which should have been placed under the seat directly in front of the traveler. For unknown reasons, the flight attendant told the owner otherwise.

The German shepherd, alas, was too big to put under a seat. And that inherently makes his travel dangerous from the start.

Some airlines put animals too large to travel in the cabin in the cargo hold, with the luggage. Others require large pets to be shipped separately, specifically as cargo, which costs as much as (and often more than) a human ticket. What’s more, those airlines don’t promise to ship pets on a customer’s flight or flight schedule.

Looking for a Better Experience

ESAs, by definition, are animals that comfort and help alleviate symptoms for people suffering from emotional and mental illnesses. Unlike service dogs, ESAs require no special training or certification.

ESAs of any size can travel free of charge in the aircraft cabin with their owners. All a traveler needs is a letter from a mental health professional prescribing the emotional support animal — and those are readily available online.

Is it any wonder more pet owners are exploring the ESA option? They’re looking for workarounds to bad experiences.

And while they also save the cost of the airline’s pet fee, I suggest most pet owners are less worried about cost than the health and safety of their animals.

Evolving Pet Travel Experience

Today’s buyers will happily switch from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations unless companies give them a reason to stay.

This new reality is placing “harsh and unfamiliar demands on institutions, requiring changes in how they develop, market, sell, and deliver products and services,” Forrester noted.

As Arke VP of Strategy Margaret Wise explained, all businesses now compete against the expectations set by the most customer-centric businesses on the planet.

“Even though these companies represent just a sliver of all business, they shape customer expectations. They raise the bar and make it harder for other companies to keep their customers satisfied,” she said.

But so far, no commercial airline has taken the lead by designing a policy that creates exceptional experiences for pet owners — as well as fellow travelers.

What’s the solution? It’s hard to say.

Like all customer experience challenges, this will take imagination and innovation to solve. But one thing is clear. Customers are impatient. They won’t wait for an official solution or continue to put pets at risk.

They’ll find a way to get what they want, or at least they’ll shot their shot — just like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. All he wanted was an order of toast.

Noreen Seebacher
Stasa Media
Noreen Seebacher is an experienced business writer, editor, reporter and manager. She has a keen interest in customer experience across verticals and the ways companies are adapting to remain relevant in the digital era.


  1. The solution is simple and the first airline company that implements it will prosper and gain clientele. In the US, more then half households include a dog and income of pet owners is higher than those who do not own pets. Install a few cages for larger dogs in the last row at back of the plane , board pet owners first and disembark them last. Set up a fair fee and sell dog tickets. Many dog owners would fly more often if it was easy. Dog friendly all-inclusive packages at resorts that cater to dog owners would be tremendously popular. I look forward to see innovation in the travel industry.


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