Southwest Airlines Just Overhauled Its Animal Policy
Southwest is the latest airline to revamp its pet policy, after several high-profile incidents involving emotional support animals caused problems on several carriers.
Southwest's new policy is designed to provide “clearer guidance” to travelers with service animals of all kinds.
“We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers,” Steve Goldberg, senior vice president of operations and hospitality, said in a statement. “However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.”
To come up with the new policy, airline officials reviewed the recent enforcement guidance issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), evaluated feedback from customers and employees, and spoke with numerous advocacy groups.
Starting on September 17, Southwest will enforce the following rules: For trained service animals, Southwest will accept only “the most common service animals — dogs, cats, and miniature horses. For the health and safety of our customers and employees, unusual or exotic animals will not be accepted.” The traveler will also have to give “credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal.”
Emotional support animals will be limited to dogs and cats. (Sorry, peacocks.) Each passenger is limited to bringing just one emotional support animal on the plane, and the animal must remain on a leash or in a carrier at all times. Customers will also have to continue to travel with appropriate documentation including a “complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.”
In a new addition, Southwest will now recognize fully trained psychiatric support animals as trained service animals. The airline had, in the past, accepted this form of service animal and is now simply formally putting the policy in writing. Travelers must also give a “credible verbal assurance” that the animal is trained.
As always, all emotional and service animals must be well-trained and under the control of the handler at all times. Southwest noted that it reserves the right to deny boarding to a disruptive animal.
“The ultimate goal with these changes is to ensure Customers traveling with service animals know what to expect when choosing Southwest,” Goldberg said.