Soaring with Southwest; Clark the Eagle flies commercial and draws stares at the airport
TSA officers and passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) did double-takes and whipped out their cell phones to snap photos and videos when a large bald eagle and its handler joined the security checkpoint line on their way to a Southwest Airlines flight.
“Our special guest was Clark the Eagle with the World Bird Sanctuary, who decided to give his wings a break and fly commercial,” TSA said in a tweet thread that included photos of the big bird. “His airline notified us, and we screened him and his handler. Clark is trained to spread his wings, and even showed off a bit during screening.”
In a video shared by a passenger at CLT, the eagle can indeed be seen spreading his wings at the checkpoint behind a TSA officer that appears to be doing her best to inspect the bird’s travel cage amid the feathered commotion.
What was Clark doing at the airport? He traveled for business and was on his way home after welcoming new students at North Carolina’s High Point University.
After Clark the Eagle gave TSA agents and onlookers a free show at the checkpoint, he was returned to his carrier. "On a case-by-case basis, Southwest Airlines works with reputable animal organizations, such as the World Bird Sanctuary, to make exceptions by allowing certain animals to travel in-cabin,” the airline told the Points Guy.
"We were very pleased to offer our assistance with this very special passenger flying alongside his trained handlers and ensured that the animal was accommodated with the appropriate amount of space while traveling the skies onboard our Boeing 737," Southwest's Brandy King told TPG when reached for comment. Southwest couldn't say exactly how the bird flew in the cabin, but we hope the bird got a whole row.
Clark the Eagle is clearly a frequent flier and a working bird, not an emotional support animal.
He’s one of four Bald Eagles who serves as a ‘flying ambassador’ for the World Bird Sanctuary based in Valley Park, Missouri, near St. Louis. The 300-acre sanctuary provides safe haven to about 270 animals of various species.
Clark the Eagle was hatched in 2002 at the sanctuary’s conservation department when it was breeding the then-endangered Bald Eagles for release into the wild.
But Clark couldn’t be released because he was born with deformities on his feet. Instead, the sanctuary trained Clark for its Eagle Flight Team which travels around the country, often flying by plane.
On its Adopt-a-Bird page, the sanctuary says Clark “began flying at St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball games to the cheers of thousands of fans for the National Anthem, and has also flown for other high profile events such as The Horatio Alger Association, the Chicago Bears, and an annual Boeing event.
With an escort, the nearly 8-pound bald eagle flies between five and seven times a year, trainer Daniel Cone, the assistant director of the World Bird Sanctuary told ABC News. And this week Clark and Cone were flying back to St. Louis on Southwest Airlines after the freshmen welcome flyover at High Point University. Cone says Clark has had that gig for about a decade and is also a regular guest at the school’s Veterans Day ceremony and graduation.
For more reading on traveling with other types of animals, check out these posts:
Related: What you need to know about traveling with dogs on planes
Related: Can you cruise with your dog, cat or other pets?
Related: A comprehensive guide to traveling with pets
Related: Perks for pets, convenience for flyers: Your guide to airport pet boarding facilities