Southwest latest airline to restrict service, emotional support animals

Southwest Airlines has become the latest big airline to tighten its policies on service and emotional support animals.

The carrier said its “update” would take effect Sept. 17 and would “provide clearer guidelines” to customers hoping to bring such animals onto its flights.

Southwest’s policies cover three types of service or support animals: emotional support animals (ESAs), trained service animals, and psychiatric support animals (PSAs).

Emotional support animals

Restrictions in Southwest’s soon-to-be-implemented policy state emotional support animals (ESAs) will be:

  • 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”

Even when the rule changes begin Sept. 17, Southwest says passengers traveling with emotional support animals must still present “a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.”

Trained service animals

For service animals, Southwest says it 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 in its statement.

A provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes a provision about the use of miniature horses as service animals, though it’s unclear how an airline might be able to accommodate a passenger requesting to bring one on a flight.

Psychiatric support animals

In what it described as an “enhancement,” Southwest said it would do more to recognize fully trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) as trained service animals. Previously, the airline had “informally accepted PSAs as trained service animals.”

Southwest notes that 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,” though Southwest adds “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.”

With the changes, Southwest said it hoped to add 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,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality, 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.

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