For the 50+ Traveler

Those hoping to bring their emotional support guinea pig onboard Southwest Airlines in the near future will be disappointed to learn that the popular airline is adding some limitations to its policy for service animals, effective this September.

According to a release sent out by Southwest Airlines, their Emotional Support Animals guidelines now specifies that only dogs and cats qualify as ESAs. According to their release, the following changes will go into effect September 17, 2018.

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

The policy remains the same in terms of requiring a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional to be presented on the day of departure. So make sure you have that with you if you're hoping to get your furry comfort pal on the plane with you.

Southwest's aim to limit their Emotional Support Animal policy to cats and dogs may seem like a perfectly reasonable rule to many. However there have been instances in the past where people brought or tried to bring unusual animals on board planes with them through the Emotional Support Animal policy of the respective airline, and it hasn't always gone well. Back in 2014, an "emotional support pig" made headlines for being kicked off a US Airways flight with its human after making noise and reportedly defecating on the floor of the plane as people were boarding. More recently, a woman tried to get her "emotional support peacock" onto a United flight, but was turned away. While these may serve as bizarre and somewhat isolated incidents, it makes sense that airlines are tightening up their policies so that passengers are clear on what flies and what doesn't. As Time notes, Delta issued their own update to its guidelines about emotional support animals back in January. And in May, American Airlines banned reptiles, rodents and goats as emotional support animals on their flights due to safety issues.

As for Southwest, they also clarified their policy on Trained Service Animals, stating that they're aligning with the Department of Transportation's guidance in only accepting the most common service animals, which are dogs, cats and miniature horses. "Unusual or exotic animals will not be accepted."

And finally, for those with fully-trained psychiatric support animals (PSA), Southwest is formalizing their policy to acknowledge them as trained service animals. From their announcement, it sounds like they previously accepted PSAs as trained service animals on an unofficial level, and this new update seems to make that stance part of their official policy.

Suffice to say, it's probably good practice to be current and mindful of the individual airline's current policies if you're hoping to bring an animal on board for your next trip. If you're planning to bring your emotional support dog or horse or pigeon or whatever on board, probably make sure you're clear on the restrictions in place and documentation required before it's time to fly.

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