Dozens of airports around the country have helped de-stress millions of passengers with teams of therapy animals in the terminals that include mostly dogs and the occasional pig (San Francisco), cat (Denver) and miniature horse (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky).
Now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is upping the animals-at-the-airport ante with alligators.
Each Friday afternoon the Audubon Nature Institute now brings live baby alligators to the baggage claim area and encourages passengers to pose for an “MSY Gator Selfie.” If they’re brave enough, the passengers are also allowed to – gently – touch the gator.
“These baby alligators are probably between a year and 3 years old and can be anywhere from 1 to 3 feet long,” said MSY spokeswoman Erin Burns. “The Audubon Nature Institute will bring one or two baby gators each week. These animals are used to being handled and they get regular breaks.”
MSY debuted its dog therapy team, the MSY K-9 Krewe (a nod to the krewes, or groups, that organize parades and balls in New Orleans), in June 2018. But Burns says the gator visits and selfies are another way the airport is working to enhance the passenger experience.
While offering travelers a chance to meet, pet and take a photo with a baby gator on Friday afternoons between 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., the Audubon Nature Institute’s educational team will host a display table with artifacts and other items that tell the story of animals – such as nutria, raccoons and opossums – that live alongside alligators in Louisiana’s wetlands.
The MSY Gator Selfies program is scheduled to continue indefinitely, said Burns, and will move to the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal when it opens in May 2019.
Harriet Baskas is a Seattle-based airports and aviation writer and USA TODAY Travel’s “At the Airport” columnist. She occasionally contributes to Ben Mutzabaugh’s Today in the Sky blog. Follow her at twitter.com/hbaskas.