Just because you don’t have your own pet in tow at the airport doesn’t make you any less of an animal-lover. When you see an adorable little face poke its head out from a soft-sided carrier, it’s natural to want to pet and squeeze the little thing until it pops. It’s called a cute aggression, and it’s something you want to be mindful of…especially in public places and especially at the airport.

Technically, it’s airport policy that pets stay in their carriers at all times, except when going through airport security or visiting a pet relief area. But this rule doesn’t apply to service animals, and it’s not like pets who are sitting calmly and quietly on their owner’s laps are a top concern for airport security. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law are two different things, so that it’s a fairly common sight to see animals outside of their carriers at the airport.

So, again, how do you manage cute aggressions and avoid accidentally overstepping your bounds and causing a scene? The best thing is to know the policies and why they exist. Service animals and emotional support animals may be trained to only respond to commands given by their owner. Approaching these animals in a sudden or seemingly aggressive manner may confuse the animal and/or set it on edge. At the very least, it may distract the animal from performing its other trained duties. At the same time, service animals are typically trained to be friendly with other people—once given the okay signal from their owners.


Tips for Approaching Other People’s Pets

There’s one simple rule to follow above all others. Identify the animal’s owner and talk to them first. Rather than launch right into asking if it’s okay to pet the animal, strike up a general conversation first. “Your dog is so cute, what’s its name, is it a pet or service animal, what kind of dog is it, how old is it?” This is good advice in general for approaching other people’s pets, but like we said earlier, it’s especially important in a highly regulated public place like the airport. Often, you can pass some of the time waiting in the airport by getting to know a new animal friend and a new person.