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Soaring with Southwest; Clark the Eagle flies commercial and draws stares at the airport

Aug. 28, 2022
4 min read
Southwest Airlines plane
Soaring with Southwest; Clark the Eagle flies commercial and draws stares at the airport
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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.

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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

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases