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Fourth of July: Liberty the eagle gets an upgrade on Southwest

July 04, 2012|By Terry Gardner | Special to the Los Angeles Times

Although Southwest Airlines is known for one class of service, a special passenger got an upgrade on Monday — from cargo to coach.

Liberty, a 21-year-old American bald eagle needed to fly from St. Louis to Kansas City, Mo., to appear at the KC Riverfest on Independence Day, but it was too hot for him to fly in the cargo hold. 

So World Bird Sanctuary bought Liberty a seat in coach on Flight 3604. He sat in his blanket-covered carrier next to Teri Graves, the sanctuary’s director of education. “He did really well on the flight," Graves said. "In the plane, he was in his animal carrier, very calm and very quiet.”

Liberty was injured twice in the wild in 1992. After his broken coracoid (similar to a collarbone) mended, he was banded and released in October 1992 at the National Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island, Fla.  Three weeks later, he was found with permanent retinal damage to both eyes and a dislocated humerus (shoulder) after apparently being hit by a car. He couldn’t be returned to the wild, so he was transferred to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Mo., where he became an educational bird.

After Flight 3604 landed at Kansas City International Airport, Liberty was removed from his crate and allowed to stretch his wings and pose for pictures with passengers and Southwest Airlines employees.

Liberty, by the way, may look familiar to Southlanders. He has twice appeared in the Tournament or Roses  parade, most recently in 2003.

Quite the traveler.

Video by multimedia specialist by Michael Nutting.

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