Mere weeks after the new Wichita Eisenhower National Airport opened June 3, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a regulation that’s likely going to require some reconfiguring of the airport.
On Aug. 5, the department issued a regulation requiring all airports that serve 10,000 or more people a year to have a relief area for service animals.
“I hate to call it a doggie restroom,” says Victor White, director of airports.
That’s what the areas have been dubbed, though. Airports have until August to comply.
“It’s a sensitive topic because the purpose of the regulation is not for run-of-the-mill pets that are traveling,” White says.
Though any animal could use the areas, they’re meant for service animals.
The regulation took years and had “a lot of comments and objections along the way,” White says.
The intent, he says, was primarily for airports that serve as connecting hubs, such as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – not airports such as Wichita’s.
“We have no connecting flights here.”
White calls it a “a cookie-cutter rule” that applies to most airports, “regardless of whether you’re Wichita or New York City.”
He says Wichita fliers arrive close to their flight times and let their dogs do their business before entering the airport.
“It’s once in a blue moon that we ever see a service animal in the terminal.”
White says it’s more common to see people with their pets in cages.
The regulation stipulates that the relief areas need to be near gates so people don’t have the hassle of leaving and then having to go through security again, “which is pretty inconvenient for folks to do.”
“It’s going to be difficult for us to find a solution that meets the regulation,” White says.
There are two exceptions that may apply to Wichita.
One is if TSA prohibits the animals near the gates. The other is if the airlines, airport and a local service animal training organization agree that it’s not appropriate for the terminal.
“We’re pursuing both of those to see if they make any sense for us,” White says.
He says various discussions about the areas have revealed that some people “are uncomfortable with an indoor area where a dog can pee and poop.”
White says Wichita’s airport was one of the first airports nationally to comply with a regulation requiring an outside relief area for service animals almost a decade ago.
“It was hardly ever, ever used by anybody,” he says. “Even just regular pets.”
The area still exists between the new airport terminal and the old one.
White says he’s asking airlines about what other airports are doing. He says larger airports have more room and more money for pet relief areas.
“This is an unfunded federal mandate,” he notes.
White also says there’s the issue of who will keep the area clean.
“We really don’t know what the best answer is.”
White, who owns two miniature dachshunds, Jet and Piper, says he wants to find the right answer.
“I’m familiar traveling with pets,” he says. “It’s an issue for any animal lover.”