Southwest Airlines Joins Others Banning Emotional Support Animals

Starting on March 1st, passengers traveling with Southwest Airlines will no longer be allowed to bring emotional support animals along in the cabin. Four-legged access will be reserved for trained service dogs, and smaller dogs and cats traveling in their carriers.

Southwest 737
No more ESAs on Southwest flights from March 1st. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

No more untrained animals roaming free

The North American trend towards banning emotional support animals on board took off with Alaska Airlines leading the way when announcing it in December last year. Alaska’s decision came a few weeks after a Department of Transportation (DOT) ruling. This allows carriers to refuse passengers to bring animals they claim provide emotional support along with them in the cabin.

Alaska’s ban, which came into effect on January 11th, was followed by similar measures from American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, and Frontier. Now, the turn has come to the last of the major US carriers. Starting on March 1st, passengers will no longer be allowed to bring emotional support animals on Southwest flights.

“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, Southwest’s Senior Vice President for Operations and Hospitality, in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

Woman checking in with a dog strapped to her back
Soon, apart from service dogs, only small dogs and cats will be allowed in carriers on board Southwest flights. Photo: Getty Images

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Service dogs are still a go

However, the airline will still permit trained service dogs in the cabin. These are classified as dogs that “are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.” Southwest emphasized that no other species will be accepted as a service animal.

People traveling with service dogs on the airline’s routes will need to present a DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form at the gate or ticket counter on their day of travel. These will be made available via the airline’s website and at airport locations.

Travelers may still bring small dogs and cats on Southwest flights for a fee, as part of its pets program. Normally, the airline allows up to six pets in carriers on one single flight, limited to one carrier per passenger.

Southwest dogs
Pets are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate, but airlines say the situation was getting out of hand. Photo: Southwest Airlines

No more ducks, ponies, or peacocks

Before the DOT’s ruling in December last year, airlines were becoming increasingly concerned about people taking advantage of the emotional support animal designation to avoid paying fees to transport their pets. There have also been instances when untrained animals have escaped to cause delays and general mayhem, or even bitten flight attendants or other passengers.

A few famous cases of more unusual animals that have flown along with their owners to provide comfort include an emotional support duck called Daniel, a pony called Flirty, several pigs, turkeys, and a monkey or two.

One of the final straws for United came when a woman tried to board with a peacock in January 2018, causing the airline to officially ban the birds, along with hedgehogs and rodents.

Did you ever come across an emotional support animal while flying? Do you know anyone who needs one? Do you think airlines should ban them entirely or leave some wiggle room with the regulations? Tell us in the comments.