Tim Mangione has flown 140,000 miles this year to visit hospitals across the U.S. as a healthcare consultant. This time, before his flight to Atlanta from New Jersey, he met a new friend—Cookie, a French bulldog.
Two hours before joining the holiday rush of travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport, Mangione and others were greeted by about eight dogs inside a section of United Airlines’ (UAL) New York hub, the airport’s Terminal C. Tim took a picture with his newly found pal, and tweeted it out:
“I don’t know of any other place that gives people more stress than an airport,” said Mangione, 48, in an interview with Fortune at the airport. “This just changes the personality of the place.”
The United Paws program is the carrier’s latest way of helping travelers de-stress during a hectic period of flying. More than 38 million passengers are expected to travel during the month of December, and United is estimating around 7 million flyers on 77,000 flights between Dec. 19 and Jan. 3 alone.
The introduction of dogs into airports serves a function beyond just pleasure. “Research shows that just petting a dog releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and affection, and also decreases levels of stress, helps us breathe easier and lowers our blood pressure,” veterinary consultant Dr. Walter Woolf said in a company statement.
The airline is partnering with several organizations to offer a dog petting and photo-taking service for its passengers. The team of therapy dogs and their volunteering owners at Newark Airport, for example, hail from Creature Comfort, a group based in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Co-founded by Annie Murphy, 66, in 2011, the organization has 175 pets which provide company in nursing homes, hospitals, libraries and now airports (aside from dogs, the group also has four therapy cats, a mini horse, a Nigerian goat and a guinea pig).
There are 230 certified comfort dogs that the carrier has deployed at seven airport hubs from Dec. 21 to Dec. 23: Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington/Dulles. Other passengers have taken to the dogs and posted pictures of their presence on social media:
The dogs brought along include breeds of all sorts: A Greater Swiss Mountain dog, a mini dachshund, a mini Australian shepherd, and a rare breed from Germany, the hovawart.
The dogs appear to benefit just as much from the interactions. Brady, the three-year-old mini Australian shepherd, was trained twice a week for over a year to weed out any fear of loud noises and people crowding around him. “I wouldn’t have dared put [Brady] in crowds before, but now, he’s totally fine.” said owner Keith Willoughby, a 73-year-old retired business teacher.
And for Mangione, it’s been a comfort bonding with Cookie. “It just puts a smile on your face,” he said while hugging his new bulldog buddy.