On Monday, a traveler got a true bird’s eye view of Charlotte Douglas Airport.
Clark, a 19-year-old bald eagle, was registered going through the TSA with his handlers for his flight back to Missouri. The images and photos caught the attention of Twitter.
Clark is a flying ambassador of world bird sanctuary in southern St. Louis. The scales on his talons never developed properly, and he would eventually catch pneumonia and die if he hunted in the wild, the association’s executive director, Dawn Griffard, told NPR by phone.
Griffard said Clark’s job is to spread a conservation message and raise funds to support the sanctuary. He does this by attending events to fly to songs like The Star Spangled Banner Where You lift me up.
TSA agents are used to seeing an eagle on their uniform when looking over their shoulder, but I’m sure the team at @CLTAirport Checkpoint A did a double take when they saw a real one earlier this week. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/cxfbqyVok1
— TSA South East (@TSA_Southeast) August 25, 2022
Griffard said Clark, who goes by the name William Clark — and yes, there’s another eagle named Lewis in his sanctuary — is contracted to fly between four and six times a year. In 12 years, this great traveler has performed more than 100 commercial flights.
The Eagles may not have shoes or belts to take off, but they have their own version of the pat down. A TSA search of a bald eagle involves investigating its crate and under the carpet inside.
People at airports often want to touch or see Clark, and his stewards have to refuse their requests to stick their fingers through his checkout window. But generally they are respectful, Griffard said.
Much to the satisfaction of World Bird Sanctuary, Southwest Airlines allows Clark to travel in the main cabin. Other airlines don’t allow it, and Griffard has had to put it in cargo in the past — once, she said, an airline misplaced it that way.
Although he stands 30 inches tall and weighs 7.5 pounds, Clark gets two seats and three seatbelt extenders. It’s because of his crate, which is attached to the bulkhead of the plane. A member of the World Bird Sanctuary eagle team sits next to the crate to keep an eye on it and give it snacks — usually rat bits, Griffard said.
At every stage of the journey, the World Bird Sanctuary team, airport staff, and often even Southwest pilots ensure Clark’s journey is as smooth as possible. He hates turbulence.
When the group arrives at their destination, Clark gets his own hotel room. They move the furniture and throw a large tarp on the ground. He gets a perch in the middle of the room, from where he watches television. Griffard said he prefers cartoons and nature shows.