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Service Animal Policy Changes—Effective September 17


Starting September 17, Southwest Airlines will have updated policies that will affect our Customers who travel with an emotional support animal or trained service animal. We hope these changes give our Customers clearer guidelines about the types of animals that can travel on our planes.


Our updates are based on a careful review of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent enforcement guidance and feedback we received from our Customers, Employees, and several advocacy groups and animal-related organizations.


Here is a look at the updates we’re making:


Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Beginning September 17, ESAs:

  • Will be limited to only dogs and cats
  • Will be limited to one per Customer
  • Must remain in a carrier or be on a leash at all times

Customers traveling with an ESA will still need to present a complete, current letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.


Trained Service Animals

  • In alignment with recent Department of Transportation (DOT) guidance, we will only accept the most common service animals—dogs, cats, and miniature horses.
  • For the health and safety of both our Customers and Employees, unusual or exotic animals will not be accepted.

As is the case today, the Customer with the disability must be able to provide the credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal.


Formally Recognizing Psychiatric Support Animals (PSAs)

And, we’re excited to announce that starting in September, Southwest will formally recognize trained psychiatric service animals (PSAs) as trained service animals. PSAs are trained to perform a task or work for a person with a mental health-related disability. For these animals, like other trained service animals, credible verbal assurance will be accepted. Though we’ve informally accepted PSAs in the past, we’re really pleased to formalize this type of service animal for our Customers.


Animal Behavior

For the Safety of both our Customers and our Employees, all emotional support and trained service animals must be trained to behave properly in a public setting and under the control of the handler at all times. An animal that engages in disruptive behavior, like scratching, growling, or urinating in the gate area, may be denied boarding.


If you’re interested in learning, check out the chart below and the new information we’ve posted on our website here.

Updated_Animals on Southwest Airlines FINAL.jpg


Explorer C

I think animals should be in carriers. When you say they can be on leashes,  my experience has been that owners let them jump to the seat ahead and if you are allergic as I am, this is not acceptable.  Pet dander gets everywhere. 

I do not hate animals , I just think that flying in a confined space requires consideration from all.

Even when I ask to be seated away from animals they say there's nothing they can do because it is open seating and they have the right to sit where they want.

Explorer C

As a service dog handler and trainer, THANK YOU! This policy appears well thought out and while adding additional rules, is not overly restrictive or demanding of those who travel with assistance animals. My dog and I recently flew together for the first time and from the gate staff, flight crew, and even the booking agents everything was perfect. We recommend our clients to fly Southwest if at all possible, and with these new rules in place will continue to do so!

Explorer C

Service animals cannot be required to be in carriers. As per ADA. They need to be out and able to do their tasks that they are trained to do for their handlers. Also keep in mind that service animals have a standard of cleanliness and grooming that must be adhered to because they are allowed in all public spaces. 

Explorer C

The policy doesn’t say service animals have to be in a carrier. It says emotional support animals do. 

Explorer C

I have just read Southwest new ESA, PSA, Service Animal policy.   Very admirable, but given that anone can pay $50 and get a Certificate of Need from any one of many online "Doctors",   I'm just not sure you have done enough to control the obvious fraud that is already taking place on your (and other) airlines.   I'm also very concerned about the size of the animals you would allow on flights.  You did not address this issue, but the inclusion of small horses set me back a bit.    I personally hope I never have to sit next to one.


Again, I admire your faith in humanity.  You are much more trusting than I.



Explorer C

 yes anyone can buy a drs note for $50  but as far as service animals go these  "drs notes" and "registrations" are not required by law  and most Service  Animal handlers know this an as such do not waste our money on useles peices of paper.  Sadly yes people will fake their Service Animals and it is sad that they feel the need to do that. As for animal size and miniture horses most larger animals provide important balance,mobility or other needed tasks.   South West thank you so much for taking the lead in reconizing the training that goes into psych service animals and not treating those with that need like ther service animals don't go thru just s much training as other service animals.  As long as you fly to my needed destinations you have my buisness.

Explorer C

It is appalling that the only consideration is for emotional support and peanut allergies. My son is 16 years old, has extreme allergies and is asthmatic.  If he were to sit

next to or near a cat on a flight he could potentially die.  Our family of 8 has been flying with Southwest for

many years, we will definitely have to reconsider moving forward.  I am certain my son isn’t the only one.

Explorer C

THANK YOU !  As a long time Southwest traveller, I am happy to see that you have finally taken a stand against the MANY travellers who have been abusing the pet policy for both emotional support and service animals on planes.  Your new policy is fair to those who legitimately need assistance while stopping the abuse by MANY!


Explorer C

As a point of reference according to current ADA law only 2 animals may be considered a service animal and those are a dog and miniature horse. In reading your new policy you are adding in cats which under law can't be considered a service animal. Please consider revising the policy to adhere to ADA standards and avoid confusion.

Explorer C

Make a fake letter, take it off google image, airlines cant verify due to privacy law. Too easy!!!

Explorer C

I heard on the news this evening that Southwest is limiting emotional support animals to dogs cats and then I thought they said miniature horses. I thought I must be hearing things but now I find out it's true. The comedians on late night television are going to have a lot of fun with this one.  Does the horse get a seat? 

Explorer C

Unfortunately this is really not sufficient. I have always been a loyal personal and business traveler with Southwest, right up until a so called emotional support dog on a leash bit my 2 year old granddaughter waiting at the gate to board one of your flights! Anyone can buy or obtain a a document claiming their animal is a support animal.A leash is not sufficient and these are not trained service animals and can pose a risk to customers.

Explorer C

I have children with signifigant allergies and they would, and do, suffer severly if/when forced to fly while sitting near a dog or cat.   I would guess that 99% of the people traveling with emotional support animals and 75% of the people traveling with service animals are simply gaming the system.   And those numbers might be low.


Finally, can anyone explain to me how a 100lb minature horse can possibly be held in someones lap or put on the floor?    Good grief, that is a terrible idea. 



Explorer B

This is absolutly absurd! We are very loyal A list members and will no longer be traveling with Southwest. We all have VERY severe allergies (especially to cats and horses) and the dangerous dander these animals leave behind can never be removed. The animal hair/dander will be forever floating around in the plane's air system and you can never get rid of it, so everyone will be constantly breathing it in during every flight and getting it all over their clothes/belongings.

I agree with the previous comments that anyone can buy/obtain a "fake" document claiming that their animal is a support animal. Many people will be abusing this system and the absolute STENCH/ODOR that these animals will leave behind will leave all Southwest airplanes smelling like the farm/zoo! Yuck! Even if they go through the planes afterwards and spray they will still leave a permanent odor in these small planes and who wants to smell heavy lysol perfumes during their flights either. 


A miniature horse? Does this 200 pound animal sit on your lap? Clog the isles? (which we are legally not supposed to) Does it wear a diaper and we all have to smell the urine/feces during our flight?  If the larger animals start freaking out during a flight, then what? What if the animal gets defensive and nips at other passengers or nips at other animals? drooling/panting during the entire flight? What if all the pets start barking or whining and we have to deal with the whining or noise? Wearing a muzzle won't block out all of the noise. Do I want an animal behind or next to me panting loudly or licking me?


What if there is an emergency? Then our safety is put at risk because a horse (or animal) is tossed up in the air and you get hit? I think safety should come first, don't you?


I 100% stand by those who truly need service animals and am very happy they have them~ but there will be those now that will totally be abusing the system.

This sounds like an extremely unhealthy, dirty, stinky very chaotic idea. Sounds like Southwest might have opened up a bad can of worms. Please reconsider, not cool at all. 

Explorer C

Looks like you’re taking baby steps in addressing this serious problem. Thank you for requiring carriers for ESAs. This is required of paid pets, so why not? I agree with a previous comment. The leashes don’t work. Now, if you’d just designate a row or two for them away from other passengers, i’d love to return to flying. The intrusiveness of these animals, under the guise of emotional support is akin to bullying. Airlines cannot continue to accommodate one group with wild abandon at the expense of others. Asthma, allergies, and phobias are as real as their need to keep an animal close by. Isolate the area and require carriers. 

Explorer C

As someone who flys southwest 8 to 10 times a year with my two emotional support animals I am SHOCKED and APPAULD by the ONE ESA per person.  My two little 8 lb Morkies traveling in the same bag have never caused any issues on any flight.  They do not cause allergy issues.  After take off I open top of carrier and stick my foot in their bag and it keeps me calm.  I do know people have abused this, but keep a list of the ones who have caused problems and don’t let them fly with animals don’t punish everyone!!!  Tell me what difference having my two furry babies under the seat in front of me or one under the seat in front of me?  They keep each other calm for the flight.  They already count as my carry on I don’t understand why they should cost more money

Explorer C

After reading through all the posts I am starting to understand the need for 1 ESA animal if they are large or not in a carrier.  I would like to see SWA amend their new policy back to two esa if they are kept in a carrier.  I have been traveling with my two little ESA animals for over 10 years and they keep each other calm by being together in their carrier it is there safe space.  I don’t understand what the difference 1 is over two when it is still just one carrier under the seat.  I have never gotten back off the plane without someone saying to me I had no idea that you had dogs under the seat they never made a sound.  There are scam people, but the rest of us who follow the rules and don’t cause any problems should not be punished.  It is hard enough traveling with anxiety and depression issues without the stresss of not having your furry babies that ground you with you 

Explorer C

I have allergies to cat and dog dander and possible miniature horses (I haven't probably been tested for them).  My breathing becomes more difficult the longer I am around them. I can't visit anyone for any period of time that has animals in their house, which I can control.  But it is very hard to control if I am on a flight where they are allowed any place on the aircraft.  I know you are concerned about people with allergies, you quit having peanuts on your flight due to people with allergies to peanuts.  Why is it fine to have animals?  There are probably more people with allergies to these "service animals" than there are to peanuts.  What can I do?  Do I need to find carriers that do not allow these animals?  I think I should be able to travel too! 

Explorer C

First of all, thank you for trying to weed out those who abuse the situation just to fly with their pets. However, I have a few issues. First your statement that reads "As is the case today, the Customer with the disability must be able to provide the credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal" is a clear violation of ADA since you are requiring verbal communications while there are some disabilities that include unable to verbally communicate, for example Autism, Cerebral Palsy, ALS, just to name a few. 


Second, I agree that all service and emotional support animals should have to be trained and certified. I believe that those credentials should have to be presented before an animal boards. Too many internet papers and scams going around to get any animal a piece of paper. 


Third, to those who say think about us with allergies, us who don't like listening to whimpers or barks, oh the smells, etc and want them not allowed at all or put in a section on the plane away from all of us! Right there, is discrimination, and is against the law regarding legal service animals. Because believe it or not, those with disabilities have rights and protections as well as the able bodies persons.  It is the government who says only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals, and is the reason they cannot be banned from flying with a person with disabilities. 


I have a daughter who has multiple disabilities, is in a wheelchair, and has a cat who decided to become her fever and seizure alert cat after we rescued him. However, we know the laws, and because cats cannot be legal service animals, we don't try to get away with a fake document. While it would be easier to fly to each of her specialists instead of drive, it is rude and insensitive people who make traveling by plane miserable for my daughter. She has no immune system and has to where a mask. Instead of asking us a question about why she is wearing a mask (like inquisitive children often do) they say I am not getting on a plane with her! It is her or me! Then there are those who sigh loudly if she is boarded last or first in an attempt to disrupt the other passengers the least. Complaining how come she can have an oxygen tank and a medical bag. No wonder there is no room for us! Don't get me wrong, airlines and staff have said and done their fair share of rude commenting or discrimination as well.


Due to this, we don't fly! So many people can't possibly understand that someone else has needs different than your own.


For those who complain about having allergies, and wanting no animal to fly while you are on board or ever according to some comments, I can only say this. In a perfect world there would be some way to check if there is an animal aboard your flight, so that you may take an alternative flight, ahead of time, before the day of flight. My daughter has several allergies that trigger her too, so it would be nice to be able to not sit by someone who has cigarette smoke on their clothes or strong perfume or cologne. We ask to switch and calmly explain why, carry extra face masks to help, carry her Epipens, and extra allergy meds with. I call ahead several times to ensure the airlines know what our needs are, send in all my daughter's documents for her wheelchair, oxygen, Epipens, doctors notes about her diagnoses, etc all ahead of time as well as have them on me when we travel. However, I always forget to request not to be put on a plane with people who are rude, discriminatory, or make nasty comments. In the end, people with disabilities are people like you and me! They hear and see all the nasty things said about or to them, and sadly it is usually the disabled person who offers to get off the flight or gets kicked off for a lack of understanding and knowledge in others. Lastly, allergies to animals aren't a recognized disability under the ADA!  

Explorer C

Why can't airlines designate rows that are used by pets? Why can't the airlines send a text alert when there will be animals on the plane? Why can't airlines have designated pet free, and emotional support support animal free flights? Though I do support trained service animals, I do not support other animals in an enclosed small space who are not crated. 


Explorer C

So what did all these people do pror to emotional support animals being allowed on planes? Or restaurants, grocery stores...etc! I love dogs, have had at least one at a time my whole life but very alleric to cats. I don't however need the added burden of taking my pets with me everywhere.I see it as a way for many people to avoid needing to find a pet sitter. 

Explorer C

Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse comments about ESAs with service animals. For clarity, I do not suggest that airlines contain or isolate true service animals. Over the years, I find the owners to be respectful and considerate of others. Their well trained animals and well planned trips have caused very few problems to most travelers. This is not the case with ESAs. Disruptive best describes these animals. They need to be contained in carriers, just like a pet companion. Not on the seats, running aisles, or attacking travelers and kids in boarding areas and in flight. They cannot continue to terrorize travelers.  Sadly, the parties act like this is a war that they must win. Me first instead of me too. They’ve lost sight of the goal. How can we ALL exercise our right to the benefit of our paid fare?. My suggestion stands. Set aside rows for ESA’s. Require containment. Oh, and please understand that this is not to isolate the individual. It’s to isolate ANIMALS to keep HUMANS alive and well. 

Explorer C

It sounds like a lot of opinions being expressed with a few facts thrown in for good measure. One thing I've noticed not mentioned is that the FAA has it's own rules. These rules, I'm told supercede any other rules relating to air travel. So I applaud SWA for their efforts in working with multiple agencies & the oh so demanding public. 


As a user of a support animal, I dislike the "emotional" tag is it labels me to people I don't know & who don't know me. I'm someone who endures SAD & anxiety. Nothing more and nothing less. Sure it's emotional but what right do you have to know that. AND support animals can be for reasons other than emotional. 


My opinion...I would like to see SWA switch back to 2 animals (not pets...service & support animals are not pets). I won't address the type of animal here because I have no experience with many of thrm.


My anxiety is not serviced by my animal being caged on the floor under the seat in front of me. I applaud the women who found a way to make this work for her. It just would not for me. So no cage for my Gg, a 13 lb Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu mix. Gg is as hypoallergenic as it is possible for an animal to be. I feel for those of you with allergies to pet dander. But don't put me in the corner (sorry for the inflammatory words) I won't wear an "A"! If you didn't understand that reference you might want to improve your classics reading...even if it's the cliff notes version. 


Perhaps people with allergies could plan ahead a little and dose themselves with OTC allergy meds or if more is needed a visit the their doctor for an allergy shot. I  have no problem with someone letting me know they have an allergy & if my hypoallergenic animal doesn't help the situation finding another seat. Personally I choose to board early with the Early Bird boarding option so others can make the decision to sit away from me.


With SWA unassigned seat policy no one who plans ahead & remains vigilant during boarding should have to sit next to an animal. A word to the flight attendant as the allergy sufferer boards might help in the attendant running interference during boarding.


As for behavior issues, SWA clearly outlines this in their new & existing policy. No behavior issues, no aggressive or lunging behavior allowed. I don't care for the being under voice command as someone here pointed out...some people are nonverbal.  My Gg can sit, lay down, roll over, shake, wait & beg. That's all I need. 


As for peeing and defecating this should be enforced. However there are exceptions. What? You say. When a flight is delayed 5 hours & we're stuck in the gate area without any idea how long of a wait. Not really a situation where you can head outside of security, search out the pet waste area, get back through security & back to your gate...when you have no idea how long the delay will be. Of course this has improved recently with many, but not all airports installing pet waste areas. I do my research to determine if my airports have this option so I know.


In the end what I'd like to say is let's all work together to make everyone as comfortable as possible in a usually uncomfortable situation.



Explorer C

I respectively disagree to the above and this is why. This was an unprovoked bite as the owner was standing talking to my husband. I too suffer from anxiety, but I use other coping maechanisms that do not infringe on the safety and comfort of my fellow passengers.son's dog bite post 3 daysson's dog bite post 3 days


Explorer B


As far as allergies and asthma go they actually are a recognized type of disability under the ADA...  I am not at all comparing them to any other disabilities but they can be very serious.

Allergies and Asthma can certainly be life and death!

There was a comment about possibly assigning designated rows to horses, cats etc-  just to let you know, this unfortunately would not work. Once the animal dander and hair is in the ventilation systems, the seat cushions, carpets, etc there is no going back. Those teenie tiny danders and hairs are what trigger allergies and asthma. The airplanes would have to be completely pet free aircrafts (hypoallergenic) if Southwest truly cared and wanted to keep all passengers out of danger and risk. They would not be able to switch an aircraft back and forth- it would have to remain a designated pet free aircraft to ensure health and safety of passengers.

As far as taking medicine or having an allergy shot before a flight? We have tried several different over the counter and prescription meds/nasal sprays. Some simply just don't work and some have terrible side effects per person.  If you know anything about allergy shots/immunotherapy it is not simply just a one time shot- it is a very long 2-3 year commitment getting an allergy shot about 2-3 times each week to try to build up an immunity to certain allergans. In about 30% of the cases (even after the 2-3 years) this procedure actually does not work. I am in the process of trying it and thus far have not experienced any relief.

I agree with the post about airplanes keeping planes peanut free for allergies, but not willing to keep them allergy free for those who have life/death reactions to animals that are not hypoallergenic. That does concern me that Southwest is not taking this seriously and did not do their research before making their decision. Is Southwest planning on having a medical staff on each flight to prepare for medical emergencies they know this will cause? 


There was a comment about just taking an allergy pill-  well in reverse I wouldn't say to someone with anxiety "well don't bring a live animal,  just take your SSRIs medication pill before you fly and you'll be fine" which I would definitely not say. I have to say that I do get anxiety and anxious over flying, so I do completely understand the stresses people go through.  I stand behind everyone and their own personal conditions.


We do our very best to avoid situations where we know that we will come in contact with certain allergies/animals and if there is a situation we are in where we feel our throats getting tight, our eyes watering, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, etc, we immediately get out of that situation, room or house as soon as possible.  Being 30,000 feet in the sky would obviously not be as easy of a situation to get out of and it would be quite scary!


Explorer C

No longer serving peanuts but allowing horses?  YIKES!

Retired Community Manager



I’m sorry you're upset by the presence of animals onboard. Airlines are required by federal law to accept trained service animals, and recent Department of Transportation guidance outlines that fully trained dogs, cats, and miniature horses are to be recognized as service animals. Federal law also requires that airlines accept emotional support animals, provided the Customer presents certain documentation.  Safety is our primary concern, and I assure you our policies and procedures were designed keeping that in mind. Additionally, all trained service animals and emotional support animals must be trained to behave properly in a public setting and remain under the control of the handler at all times. In fact, an animal that engages in disruptive behavior may be denied boarding. 


We realize that some Customers have animal allergies and we will provide a “buffer zone” upon request by seating the Customer with the allergy away from the animal. Plus, all cabin air on our planes is circulated through High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters two to three times per minute once the aircraft doors are closed and the system is activated. As a loyal Member, we hope you will consider that while we cannot promise that you will never encounter an animal on one of your flights (on Southwest or on any other carrier), we will do what we can to safely and comfortably accommodate everyone involved.


Explorer B




you obviously did not read my post if your comment is  " sorry you are upset by the presence of animals onboard" ........?       I clearly wrote:


"I 100% stand by those who truly need service animals and am very happy they have them~ but there will be those now that will totally be abusing the system."   


That doesn't sound like I am upset by the presence of animals.   


The air filters clearly won't keep the dander and hair out of the cushions and carpets... 

I wonder if more people have allergies to animals verses peanuts...   😉


Anyways   😉    ~  have a good day Linday.



Explorer C

I am very disappointed in SWA new ESA policy as I stated earlier in this discussion.  Having 2 small dogs in their bag or 1 would make no difference for any of the other passengers.  My two girls do not effect allergies, but my clothes my cause some issues because I do have a lab and a cat at home so their hair or dander most likely is on my clothes so even if no actual animals were on the flight the hair and dander still would be on the flight from all pet owners. If people don’t act responsibly then they should be put on a list and not be able to travel with their ESA, Service or Pet.  Responsible passengers like myself should not be punished.  I did contact through email SWA directly about my concerns about the number of ESA in carrier and got a no reply email saying it would take up to 30 days to respond.  Which makes it difficult to know if I need to make other arrangements next month to fly to Tampa.  

Explorer C

Hello Southwest Airlines,


I recently read about your decision to allow "service ponies" onboard flights and I'm concerned.  First, let me get one thing straight: I understand that some of your passengers may need a support animal out of medical necessity; that's entirely valid.  However, I'm one of your passengers on the opposite side of the spectrum: I'm severely allergic to certain animals (horses being one of them) and cannot be around them out of medical necessity. 


Horses can and unfortunately have caused me to suffer anaphylactic reactions.  If you're unfamiliar with this, it's a severe reaction that can lead to seizures, the airway swelling to the point of being unable to breath, loss of consciousness, etc.  More unfortunate still is that these reactions can occur within 1-2 minutes of being exposed to the allergen.


Now, my allergies didn't develop until I was in my late teens, so I've experienced both sides of the issue.  When I was younger, I didn't get why one of my friends couldn't come to my house because we had a dog, how another couldn't sit on grass, or how another couldn't eat a single peanut.  It's tough being sympathetic when the physical side effects haven't even occurred (yet could be fatal if they did).


And now that I have allergies, I can't tell you the number of times I've been in a situation when others have tried to make me feel badly or embarrassed because I've had to ask them to cater to my allergies. I've witnessed others go through the same.  To put it very eloquently, it sucks.


My point is, though I'm sure you already grasp it, is that while I don't want to assume the worst about potential future situations, I have to.  Just as your customers who suffer from medical issues that require a service animal have to think ahead to assure their health and safety, I, and anyone who suffers from severe allergies (or many other medical issues), have to do the same.  It's unfortunate, but it's a part of our lives.


So, my question to you, as a business that must cater to your customer's needs, especially medical, is: how are you going to handle the situation when I (or any of your passengers with severe allergies) are placed on a flight with a passenger who needs an emergency support pony? 

Explorer C

It's about time.  I'm tired of all the fake service anmals on planes

Explorer C

Let me point out ONE thing:


There is no such thing as a "certified" service animal.  There is no protocal, training schedule, or requirements when it comes to being a service animal, other than mitigating a disability.  There is no data base to check them on, there are no credientials.  The service provided for the blind, the deaf and PTSD train dogs for more than 2 years but there is still no such thing as a "certified" service animal, there is no regulation of them. No one to verify they are up to date on vaccinations, training and healthy.


The only way to cut down on fake service dogs, is for it to be federally regulated.  With training, testing, certifications, vaccinations, health checks and a database that is Nationally maintained of those that are TRUE service animals. Everyone is scared of the ADA, but there has to be a way to verify a service animal and handler, with proper that the danger to the public is minimal.


Currently, the atmosphere in America is, "But I want it!!!"  How dare you not give it to me?"  Unfortunately, we have to stop spoiling the brats and put our foot down and regulate the training and certification of these wonderfully, helpful animals, to weed out the liars.





Explorer C

Southwest-Stories/Service-Animal-Policy-Changes-Effective-September-17/ba-p/78566 Guidelines released by the Southwest Airlines relating to ESA need a slight modification. Obviously, a patient who loves a rabbit would have nothing to do with a dog or cat. Nor they could provide any mental solace as the patient has no interest in them. The right way is, whether a patient requires the company of cat, dog or rabbit should be left to the doctor. Prominent mental health specialists Steady Care Medical Clinic have recommended my grand aunt to keep an ES rabbit and that does not mean should never board a plane with the ESA.