Southwest Airlines has announced changes to its policies for trained service and emotional support animals. The changes are designed to provide clearer guidance to Customers traveling with service animals and will go into effect on Monday, September 17.
“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.”
To create these policy changes, Southwest reviewed the recent enforcement guidance issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), evaluated feedback from Customers and Employees, and spoke with numerous advocacy groups that represent Customers with disabilities who travel with service animals. Based upon the guidance received, Southwest will enact the following changes on September 17:
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
- In alignment with recent DOT guidance, 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.
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 pleased to formalize 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.
For the safety of both Southwest’s Customers and Employees, 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.”