When New York resident and Memphis, Tenn., native Austin Varner and her dog Byrdie boarded their Delta flight Thursday morning, it seemed like it would be a routine trip.
But the morning was anything but ordinary when Byrdie decided to fly the coop, escaping her crate and causing delays at LaGuardia International Airport in the process.
As airline staff loaded Byrdie’s crate onto the plane, the 14-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback broke loose and bolted. Byrdie flew down the tarmac, leaving the plane in the dust.
An air traffic controller, who had a bird’s eye view of the whole escape from the traffic tower, gave a play-by-play over the radio. “We got a dog running like crazy down there,” he squawked.
Airport staff made a beeline for Byrdie, but the pooch proved too quick for the workers. Evading capture, she made her way from the tarmac to the runway, putting all flight traffic in a standstill.
Yet workers continued in their efforts, some even squatting low to the pavement while trying to coax Byrdie to them. As many as 11 airport trucks circled Byrdie in an attempt to corner her, but the determined dog wasn’t fazed.
“She was just standing there,” Varner said of Byrdie during the airport workers’ struggle to catch the wandering Ridgeback.
After several fruitless attempts, Varner was allowed off the plane to join in the recovery efforts.
“It took awhile in the car to get to her,” Varner said, surprised at how far Byrdie had run.
In the end, only Varner could convince Byrdie to end her game of chase. “She didn’t want to come to them,” Varner said of the workers who had tried in vain to catch Byrdie. “But she came right to me, and we got her.”
Varner accompanied Byrdie back onto the plane, where staff took measures to ensure that the lively pup couldn’t escape from her crate a second time. The crate was secured, Varner said, “with 20 zip ties to triple-check she couldn’t get out.”
In all, it is estimated that Byrdie’s escape delayed flights by about 20 minutes.
When Varner’s flight finally landed in Memphis, the pilot approached the relieved owner and introduced himself. “He just wanted me to know that he went down and personally checked on Byrdie the second we landed,” Varner said.