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Does Southwest Still Allow Emotional Support Animals?
No, effective March 2021, Southwest emotional support animal flying is not an option.
Service animals are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but emotional support animals are no longer protected under the law. This means the new rules the Department of Transportation (DOT) set do not legally require airlines to permit ESAs on board their planes, but trained service animals are still required to be allowed.
Since it is now up to the companies to determine whether or not it allows ESAs, Southwest Airlines has decided to restrict them. So, Southwest is not one of the emotional support animal airlines.
Is Southwest Banning Emotional Support Animals?
Yes, Southwest Airlines has banned emotional support animals in the cabin. New regulations put in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation have made it, so ESAs are not recognized as trained service dogs.
Southwest cites an incident where an American Airlines flight attendant was bitten as being the reason it became the last of the “big four” airlines to ban emotional support animals.
This was shortly following decisions made by American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines to update their pet policies to ban ESAs on their flights.
In fact, all major US airlines updated their emotional support animal policies to ban ESAs, including Jetblue, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier.
What is the Southwest Pet Travel Policy?
Let’s take a closer look at the Southwest emotional support animal and pets policy.
Pets in the Southwest Plane Cabin. Pets like cats and small dogs are allowed in the cabins of aircraft, but reservations must be made ahead of time, and the animal must be confined to a pet carrier that will fit under the customer’s seat for the duration of the flight.
This requires a small carrier no larger than 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide. The carrier can contain no more than two of the same species of cat or dog per pet carrier, and flights are allowed up to six pet carriers per flight, and each carrier is considered a carry-on.
The exception to this is that trained service animals are allowed in the cabin with the proper documentation to prove they are trained service animals. Trained service animals also do not count toward the total number of pets a person may bring on board as they are not considered pets. Pet fees for each carrier will cost $95.00 each way.
Pets in the Southwest Plane Cargo. As Southwest says on its site, “Under no circumstances will we accept pets in the cargo hold. Southwest Airlines only accept cats and dogs in-cabin.” This is most likely because going into the cargo bay can be damaging to an animal’s health.
How do I Fly With my Pet on Southwest?
These are the steps to take for Southwest emotional support animal and pet flying:
- Ensure your Pet Carrier is Approved. Pet carriers on Southwest are considered a carry-on and are subject to size requirements. The carrier may be no larger than 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide. Southwest has their pet carrier if that works better. Pets must be able to stand up quickly and turn around inside the carrier.
- Make a Reservation. Any time a person flies with a pet, they must make a reservation by calling 1-800-435-9792 as pet space is limited. Pets do not need vaccination forms or health documentation for reservations or flights.
- Pay the Pet Fare. Pet owners must pay the $95.00 pet fare before going through security. Each customer is allowed one pet carrier that may contain up to two animals of the same species.
- Walk through Security. You will be instructed to hold your pet while passing the security checkpoint.
- Board the Plane. After you have checked the pet in at the ticket counter and boarded the plane, the pet carrier is to be placed under the seat in front of you, and your pet is to remain in the carrier for the duration of the flight.
What Pets are Allowed on a Southwest Flight?
Southwest allows only cats and small dogs that are able to stand up and turn around in the carrier small enough to fit under their seats. However, in the past, due to the loose regulations of the ESA standards, there have been an array of animals such as ferrets and guinea pigs, and there was once even a peacock on board a Southwest Airlines flight.
How do I Travel With a Service Animal on Southwest?
The process of traveling with a service animal is similar to that of traveling with small dogs. A person will need to book reservations stating a service animal will be accompanying them, they will need to check in at the ticket counter and present the required documentation proving the animal is a trained service animal.
The personnel may ask questions regarding the work the service animal is trained to provide. Once on board, the animal is not to wander into the aisle or occupy a seat, and those with service animals are not to sit in an emergency exit.
How do I Submit Service Animal Documents to Southwest?
DOT service animal air transportation forms are available online here. This form must be completed accurately and presented at the ticket counter or the gate when check-in.
What are Southwest’s In-Flight Requirements for a Service Animal?
Service animals must meet specific criteria. For example, per Southwest’s animal policies, service animals must be dogs and “must be harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered to the handler at all times. Animals must also be well-groomed, free from odors, etc., and trained to behave properly in a public setting and under the handler’s control at all times,” according to their FAQ page.
How Much is Flying With a Pet on Southwest?
Here are the Southwest emotional support animal and pet fees:
- Southwest Fees for Pets Flying in Cabin: The dog must be leashed at all times and may not wander into the aisles or occupy any empty seats. It is expected to not bother other passengers and must be well-groomed and behave appropriately in a confined public setting.
- Southwest Fees for Pets Flying in Cargo: Pets are “under no circumstances” allowed in the cargo hold, according to Southwest’s FAQ page.
- Southwest Fees for Flying with Service Dogs: No fees are required to bring a service animal on board a Southwest Airlines flight.