Southwest Airlines is known to be a favorite with travelers with their passenger-friendly policies. They will gladly accept your animal companion in the cabin if you’re able to comply with their rules.
But first, some unpleasant news for owners of emotional support animals (ESAs): Southwest Airlines no longer accepts ESAs on board. If you are traveling with an ESA, they will be treated as a normal pet subject to Southwest Airlines’ fees ($95 each way) and restrictions for pets.
It’s not just Southwest, U.S. airlines have ended their accommodations for emotional support animals as a result of new rules that were released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). As of March 2021, most U.S. airlines no longer accept emotional support animals in the cabin of flights.
There’s better news for those traveling with psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) and service animals. The Department of Transportation maintained the legal protections for PSDs ands service animals, and they can still board the cabin of Southwest Airlines flights free of charge. PSDs and service animals are also exempt from many of the restrictions placed on regular pets, size as size.
This post will cover how to travel with your ESA, PSD, or regular pet on Southwest Airlines and what you should be aware of before booking a flight.
Good News! All airlines accept Psychiatric Service Dogs on their flights.
If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we are happy to connect with you with a licensed healthcare provider so they may assist you.
What are Southwest’s Requirements for Service Animals?
Fully trained service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, are allowed to board the cabin of Southwest Airlines flights free of charge. Only dogs can qualify as service animals under the DOT’s rules. We’ll cover how someone qualifies for a psychiatric service dog later on.
Passengers should note they are traveling with a service dog when they book their reservation with Southwest. To board with a PSD, the owner must present a completed DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form at the ticket counter or gate on the day of departure. The DOT form requires you to certify that your dog is a trained service animal needed for a disability. The DOT Form also requires you to certify that your dog has been vaccinated and will behave properly, and be under your control at all times.
Service dog paraphernalia such as vests, harnesses, ID cards, and registrations are not sufficient to prove that your dog is a service dog or psychiatric service dog. While service dog owners frequently use these items to broadcast that their dog is on duty, they are optional, and you must still have a completed DOT Form to board the cabin.
Your service dog must be under your control at all times and behave appropriately at the gate and on the plane. Southwest Airlines also requires the dog to be well-groomed and free from unpleasant odors.
Southwest Airlines, along with every other airline, has the right to deny boarding for your service dog if it is threatening the health or safety of other passengers or crew or is engaging in disruptive behaviors such as:
- Excessive whining, barking, or scratching
- Growling, biting, or lunging
- Relieving itself in inappropriate areas
Service dog owners should also keep in mind special rules may apply for flights to/from international destinations, Hawaii and Guam.
In addition to the DOT Form, Southwest Airlines staff are allowed to confirm that your dog is a service dog with two limited questions:
- Is the dog required because of a disability?
- What task or job has the service dog been trained to perform?
Airline staff has the right to ask these questions under federal law, but keep in mind they can’t ask about personal details regarding your medical condition or demand that you show your dog can perform its task.
Can Therapy Dogs Board Southwest Airlines?
Therapy dogs are used by their handlers to comfort other people suffering from distress, particularly in group settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and campuses. They are not trained to perform tasks relating to a handler’s specific disability and are thus not considered psychiatric service dogs. Therapy dogs are subject to the same rules as normal pets.
How do you Qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Psychiatric service dogs are like emotional support animals in that they help with a mental and emotional health condition but with a key difference: a PSD must be trained to perform a task or job relating to the handler’s disability.
Most people imagine service dogs performing tasks for people with readily apparent physical disabilities (like guide dogs, for example), but psychiatric service dogs perform an incredible array of tasks for people with hidden disabilities as well. PSDs have been trained to provide comfort through touch during moments of crisis, remind their handlers to take medications, interrupt psychotic episodes and dissociative spells, and prove a buffer in large crowds.
An ESA can, in theory, become a PSD if it can be trained to perform a task the owner needs. Not all ESAs can be PSDs because service dogs must also navigate often stressful public environments such as crowded airports and plane cabins. A PSD can be trained by its owner or with the help of a professional trainer.
If you fly with a PSD, you will be required to fill out the DOT’s form, a federal form where you make certifications regarding your disability-related need for a service dog. If you’re beginning the path towards owning a PSD or already have a PSD but need backup documentation for peace of mind, ESA Doctors can help.
ESA Doctors works with licensed healthcare professionals that specialize in assistance animals. They will evaluate your mental and emotional health and write a PSD letter if they determine you qualify. A PSD letter is a signed document from a licensed professional that states whether they believe you have a disability that qualifies for a psychiatric service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
For a beginner’s guide to flying with a PSD, click here.
How to Get your Psychiatric Service Dog Letter from ESA Doctors
What are the Rules for Service Dogs on Southwest Airlines Flights?
Once you have boarded a Southwest Airlines flight with your service dog, follow these onboard rules:
- Service dogs cannot sit in an emergency row.
- The service animal can be on the aircraft floor, or the passenger’s lap if it is no larger than a two-year-old child, or must be kept in a pet carrier.
- The service animal cannot encroach into the aisle or the space of a neighboring passenger.
- Service dogs are not allowed to sit in the seats.
Remember, the aircraft crew can also remove a service dog that is misbehaving or compromising the health or safety of other people. A properly trained service dog should be well prepared for the rigors of being in a busy airport and plane.
What are the Rules for Pets on Southwest Airlines?
If you have a small pet that is not a service dog, you may still be able to board the cabin with your pet if you meet Southwest’s requirements. Southwest Airlines allows small dogs and cats that can be carried in a pet carrier in the cabin. Pet carriers can be a maximum of 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide. Both soft and hard-sided pet carriers are acceptable as long as they are leak-proof and well-ventilated. The carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
Pets are subject to a $95 pet fee for each pet carrier one way. It’s essential to book a reservation for travel with a pet early because pets are generally limited to six per flight, and spots are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis.
Note that Southwest Airlines does not transport pets to/from Hawaii. Different rules may apply for flights to/from international destinations.
Here are some additional rules to keep in mind when flying with a non-service animal pet on Southwest:
- Only one pet carrier is allowed per ticketed passenger.
- A carrier can contain two dogs or two cats.
- The pet must be able to stand up and move around the pet carrier with ease.
- Your pet must be in the pet carrier at all times at the gate and during the flight.
- Pet carriers can be considered either a personal item or a carry-on.
- Pets are not allowed to occupy the exit row.
- Cats and dogs must be at least two months old.
A pet can be banned from a flight if it engages in disruptive behaviors or disturbing other passengers or the crew. If you’re new to flying with a pet, it can help prepare your dog or cat by simulating similar settings and perhaps starting with a shorter flight.
Flying with a psychiatric service dog or pet on Southwest Airlines can be a breeze if you and your animal are prepared. Make sure you have notified Southwest Airlines in advance and completed any required documents well before departure. You should also make sure your PSD or pet is ready to handle the challenges of flying and will not misbehave towards other passengers and animals.
The information on this page is for general informational purposes and should be confirmed directly with the airline. ESADoctors.com is not associated or affiliated with this airline or any of its subsidiaries.
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