Southwest Airlines has tightened up its rules on emotional support animals and I could not be happier.
Starting on September 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines will only accept dogs and cats as emotional support animals onboard. Furthermore, passengers will only be allowed one emotional support animal and must keep them on a leash or in a pet carrier at all times.
And your animal better behave as well. Southwest Airlines spokesman Brian Parrish told the LA Times:
If an animal is presented as a service animal and does not display the behavioral characteristics of a trained service animal, including being under the handler’s complete control, we will not accept the animal for travel as the customer’s assurance would not be credible.
That means you may have to demonstrate to check-in or gate agents that your dog can obey commands.
This is GREAT News
You’ve witnessed it. I’ve witnessed it. Out-of-control emotional support animals on planes that do not keep to themselves and are not well-behaved. We’ve also seen the number of so-called emotional support animals proliferate in recent years.
Heck, one person even tried to bring a peacock onboard as an emotional support animal.
I applaud Southwest for this reasonable policy change. We don’t need pet snakes slithering around the cabin or other exotic emotional support animals onboard. This is a logical move that still ensures those who really need an emotional support animal will not be shut out of flying Southwest.
But Southwest Can Do More…
It is still much easier to bring an emotional support animal on Southwest Airlines than on some competitors. For example, United Airlines requires both an Animal Behavior Form and Veterinary Health Form (signed by a licensed veterinarian) at least 48 hours prior to travel. Southwest requires only a doctor’s letter stating the passenger needs an emotional support animal. These letters can be obtained in mere minutes from a number of (dis)reputable sources online.
I’d like to see Southwest add further requirements like United.
My sentiment on emotional support animals is not meant to be mean-spirited. I know that many people, especially those suffering from PTSD, lean heavily on a dog or cat for emotional support. At the same time, there are far too many passengers who abuse the emotional support animal program to skirt pet fees. This is not only unconscionable, but ruins the program for those who legitimately need these animals. Southwest’s narrowing of the scope of what constitutes an emotional support animal is a smart move.