Southwest Airlines Emotional Support & Service Animal Policy Change March 1, 2021

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a rule on December 2nd (read more here) that airlines in the US would no longer be required to transport Emotional Support Animals (ESA), and they only need to accept trained dogs as service animals.

Pony

Southwest Airlines announced yesterday that it would only accept emotional support animals through March 1, 2021. The airline won’t authorize travel for service animals that don’t meet the updated DOT guidelines from that date.

You can access Southwest Airlines here.

Here’s the announcement from the airline:

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) today announced that, consistent with new regulations from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the carrier is making changes to its policies regarding trained service animals and emotional support animals. Effective March 1, 2021, the airline will accept only trained service dogs for travel and will no longer transport emotional support animals.

With this revision, Southwest Airlines® will only allow service dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability to travel with the Customer. The types of disability include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability and only dogs will be accepted (including those for psychiatric service) — no other species will be accepted as a trained service animal.

“We applaud the Department of Transportation’s recent ruling that allows us to make these important changes to address numerous concerns raised by the public and airline employees regarding the transport of untrained animals in the cabins of aircraft,” said Steve Goldberg, Senior Vice President, Operations and Hospitality. “Southwest Airlines continues to support the ability of qualified individuals with a disability to bring trained service dogs for travel and remains committed to providing a positive and accessible travel experience for all of our Customers with disabilities.”

As part of this change, Customers traveling with trained service dogs now must present a complete, and accurate, DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form at the gate or ticket counter on their day of travel to affirm a service animal’s health, behavior, and training. Customers should complete the form, which will be available both on the airline’s website and at airport locations, after booking their travel.

Additionally, Southwest will no longer accept emotional support animals for travel effective on March 1, 2021. Customers may still travel with some animals as part of the airline’s existing pets program for a charge; however, the animals must meet all applicable requirements regarding in-cabin stowage and species (dogs and cats only).

Customers who hold existing reservations for travel with unaccepted animals after Feb. 28, 2021 may contact Southwest for more information and assistance. Southwest’s policies for traveling with trained service animals can be reviewed at Southwest.com.

Conclusion

It was unfortunate that DOT had to make this ruling, but passengers abused ESA’s a lot (from turkeys to snakes), and most were not trained at all.

I would assume that all the US airlines will institute similar rules (now American, Alaska, and southwest have) that follow the DOT’s policy change.

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