Southwest Overhauls Rules For Emotional Support Animals

By RJ Johnson - @rickerthewriter

August 15, 2018

Southwest updates its emotional support and service animal policy

Emotional-support peacocks need not apply.

Southwest Airlines has become the latest airline to tighten the leash on its policies for service and emotional support animals. According to a post from the carrier's blog announcing the update, Southwest says the update is meant to "provide clearer guidelines" to passengers who wish to bring animals on board their flight. 

Some restrictions of the new policy on emotional support animals taking effect on Sept 17 include: 

  • Limited to only dogs and cats
  • Limited to one per customer
  • Required to “remain in a carrier or be on a leash at all times”

Passengers traveling with emotional support animals must present a "complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental  health professional on the day of departure." 

Trained service animals are given a little more leeway. Southwest says they 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 airline added.

Miniature horses are included in a provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), however it's unclear how an airline might reasonably accommodate a passenger who brings their trained miniature horse on a flight. 

The changes come as the industry attempts to deal with other passenger's concerns that people were abusing the right to bring animals on planes. 

American clarified their rules in May, as they followed Delta's example, who updated their rules in January, and United Airlines in February. Airlines have been working with advocacy groups that represent customers with disabilities who travel with service animals while also evaluating feedback from both customers and employees to craft the new policies. 

Steve Goldberg, Southwest's Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality says the airline hopes the changes bring clarity to its rules for flying with service and support animals. 

“We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers,” Goldberg said in a statement announcing the changes. “However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.”

Photo: Getty Images

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