Penguins on a Plane: Meet Southwest’s Feathered Frequent Flyers

Passengers snapped pictures and took video of a pair of Magellanic penguins toddling down an airplane's aisle on a recent flight from Orlando to New York. 
Wed February 8, 2012 11:40 pm
YouTube | Screengrab

Meet Pete and Penny, SeaWorld's feathery frequent flyers that (probably) travel on Southwest Airlines more often than you do.

The pair of Magellanic penguins were spotted most recently on Monday on an Orlando to Baltimore to New York LaGuardia flight.

"They like to say that Pete and Penny can't fly, but when they do they fly on Southwest Airlines," Michelle Agnew, a Southwest spokeswoman, explained. SeaWorld's penguins travel on Southwest as often as twice a month.

The penguin pair flying Monday was en route to New York City to attend Kidscreen, a trade show focusing on the children's entertainment industry, according to Gregory Smith, a spokesman for SeaWorld Orlando. "They are quite the popular pair," he said.

The birds are ticketed passengers, with their seats reserved through a special partnership SeaWorld and the airline have had since 1988. (Currently, the airline has three iconic aircraft painted like Shamu.)

The penguins preboard the plane with their handlers, and spend most of the flight shut into their crates, which are strapped to the first row of seats. But, when the moment is right and the fasten seatbelt signs are off, the penguins are let out for some (supervised) recreation time.

"The trainers love to get the penguins out to stretch their legs," Agnew said. "They allow them to waddle up and down the aisle."

Penguins have been stretching their legs on Southwest flights for more than ten years, giving other passengers a unique opportunity to see penguins up close. "You don't walk outside your door and see penguins," Smith said.

Most often, the penguins can be spotted on flights to and from San Antonio, Orlando, and San Diego, where SeaWorld's three parks are located. (A word of caution: Pete and Penny are stage names and thus used by many SeaWorld penguins, according to one SeaWorld spokesman). Occasionally, bald eagles and small mammals, including lemurs, take the flights, but those animals stay confined their crates for the duration of the flight, Agnew said.

Magellanic penguins, named for explorer Ferdinand Magellan, hail from South America and are considered "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Dan Wintermantel, a passenger on the flight, shot a cell phone video of the birds Monday on his flight to Baltimore. He said many of the passengers were not versed on the finer points of penguin etiquette, using flashes when they took pictures of the birds. "You can hear the keeper in my video telling a man to sit down and let the penguins pass," he explained.

"It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry," a man named Joe Moore reportedly once said. The truth of those words is apparent from the reaction of the people on a recent San Diego to Denver flight, seen in the video below:

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