Southwest places new limits on animals traveling with passengers

Photo (c) Jodi Jacobson - Getty Images

'Emotional support' animals will be limited to dogs and cats

Southwest Airlines is the latest airline to limit the types of animals that passengers can bring aboard aircraft.

The airline has issued a set of updated policies for transporting trained service and emotional support animals in the aircraft cabin. The changes go into effect Monday, September 17.

It follows other airlines making similar adjustments to their policies after some consumers complained that existing policies were being abused.

"We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers," said Steve Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality. "However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience."

Southwest said it reviewed the recent enforcement guidance issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and also looked at the feedback it received from customers and employees. It also consulted several advocacy groups representing customers with disabilities who travel with service animals.

Changes in policy

After reviewing that guidance, Southwest said it will make the following changes on September 17:

  • Emotional support animals (ESA) will be limited to dogs and cats

  • ESAs will be limited to one per passenger

  • ESAs must be in a carrier or on a leash at all times

Passengers with ESAs will still be required to present a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.

When it comes to trained service animals, Southwest will only allow the most common service animals -- dogs, cats, and miniature horses -- to board. Unusual or exotic animals will be rejected on health and safety grounds.

If a passenger is traveling with an animal, he or she must be able to provide "credible verbal assurance" that the animal is a trained service animal.

Ongoing review

"The ultimate goal with these changes is to ensure customers traveling with service animals know what to expect when choosing Southwest," said Goldberg. "Southwest will continue working with advocacy groups, employees, customers, and the DOT to ensure we offer supportive service animal guidelines."

Part of the policy change includes the formal recognition that fully-trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) qualify as trained service animals. In the past, the airline conveyed informal recognition.

However, Southwest says all emotional support and service animals must be trained to behave in a public setting and must be under the control of the handler at all times. The airline said it reserves the right to deny boarding to any animal that is not behaving in accordance with guidelines.

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