Southwest Airlines has announced changes to its policies for trained service and emotional support animals, which will take effect Sept. 17.
"We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance," said Steve Golberg, the Senior VP of Operations and Hospitality. "However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear."
The press release announcing the policy changes said guidance from the Department of Transportation (DOT), feedback from customers and employees, and discussion with "numerous advocacy groups" informed their decisions. The changes are as follows:
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
- ESAs will be limited to only dogs and cats
- ESAs will be limited to one per Customer
- ESAs must remain in a carrier or be on a leash at all times
Customers traveling with ESAs will still need to present a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.
Trained Service Animals
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In alignment with recent DOT guidance, Southwest will accept only the most common service animals—dogs, cats, and miniature horses. Unusual or exotic animals will not be accepted.
As is the case today, the Customer with the disability must be able to provide credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal.
Formally Recognizing Psychiatric Support Animals (PSAs)
Southwest also will introduce an enhancement that recognizes fully-trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) as trained service animals. Southwest informally accepted PSAs as trained service animals in the past and the airline is formalizing the acceptance of this type of service animal based upon customer feedback. PSAs are individually trained to perform a task or work for a person with a mental health-related disability. A credible verbal assurance will be sufficient to travel with a PSA.
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. An animal that engages in disruptive behavior may be denied boarding.
“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.”