Why a bald eagle was spotted going through a TSA security checkpoint at a North Carolina airport

Clark the eagle turned heads at Charlotte's airport on Monday.

ByMeredith Deliso via ABCNews logo
Friday, August 26, 2022
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A bald eagle was spotted Monday going through security at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Trainer Daniel Cone has flown so often with exotic animals that he doesn't think much of it. Though a bald eagle sighting at a North Carolina airport turned heads this week, with video from the security checkpoint going viral.

"Any time you're working with an exotic animal like a bald eagle you're going to draw more attention," Cone, the assistant director of the St. Louis-based World Bird Sanctuary, told ABC News. "I've traveled with this eagle so many times I don't even think twice about it anymore."

The unexpected guest -- a 19-year-old raptor named Clark -- was captured by a fellow traveler going through airport security on Monday at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

"Mans is out here bringing a bald eagle through TSA at CLT Douglas," Elijah Burke tweeted.

TSA spotlighted the head-turning passenger on Thursday.

"TSA officers are used to seeing an eagle on their uniform as they look 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," Mark Howell, the spokesperson for the TSA Southeast region, wrote on Twitter.

Clark flies between five and seven times a year, said Cone, who was captured in the photos and footage from the airport holding the nearly 8-pound bird.

In this instance, they were traveling on Southwest Airlines back home to St. Louis after helping welcome new freshmen at High Point University. Clark has been coming to the school for over a decade and is also a regular at its Veterans Day ceremony and graduation, Cone said.

The sanctuary's trainers typically are taken to a back room while going through security with their animals for more privacy, though in this case they were "a little bit more out in the open," Cone said.

"We don't mind. Clark doesn't mind certainly," Cone said. "He's a ham. He eats it up."

Howell told ABC News that it's the airlines' discretion when it comes to what animals they'll allow on commercial flights.

The airline notified TSA that the bald eagle would be traveling through on Monday, so it could be prepared to conduct the screening.

TSA agents brought the bird to a separate lane, where it was removed from its carrier for the screening before being returned, Howell said. Passengers were diverted to a different lane, he said.

"People probably could have gotten spooked by that," he said. "We didn't want to scare anyone inside the checkpoint."

Clark is trained to spread its wings open and was "showing off a bit" during the screening, Howell said.

Cone said he always flies Southwest with Clark and the sanctuary's other bald eagles. They have a custom-made carrier for the birds that fits in the bulkhead of the cabin. Clark tends to get the most airtime, though Cone said he recently flew out with a male endangered Egyptian vulture so that it could breed at the San Diego Zoo.

Other unique animals that Howell and his TSA colleagues recall going through airport security in recent years include baby penguins with a zoo, baby cougars and a long-feathered chicken that was dyed pink, Howell said.

"It's not a daily occurrence," he said. "It boils down to if the airline is OK with it."