August 15, 2018

Southwest Latest Airline to Restrict Service, Emotional Support Animals

Southwest Airlines has become the latest big airline to tighten its policies on service and emotional support animals.
The carrier said its ÒupdateÓ would take effect Sept. 17 and would Òprovide clearer guidelinesÓ to customers hoping to bring such animals onto its flights.

Southwest's policies cover three types of service or support animals: emotional support animals (ESAs), trained service animals, and psychiatric support animals (PSAs).

Emotional support animals

Restrictions in SouthwestÕs soon-to-be-implemented policy state emotional support animals (ESAs) will be:

  • Limited to only dogs and cats
  • Limited to one per customer
  • Required to Òremain in a carrier or be on a leash at all timesÓ

Even when the rule changes begin Sept. 17, Southwest says passengers traveling with emotional support animals must still present Òa complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.Ó

Trained service animals

For service animals, Southwest says it will accept "only the most common service animals Ð dogs, cats, and miniature horses."

"For the health and safety of our customers and Employees, unusual or exotic animals will not be accepted," the airline added in its statement.

A provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes a provision about the use of miniature horses as service animals, though it's unclear how an airline might be able to accommodate a passenger requesting to bring one on a flight.

Psychiatric support animals

In what it described as an "enhancement," Southwest said it would do more to recognize fully trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) as trained service animals. Previously, the airline had "informally accepted PSAs as trained service animals."

Southwest notes that PSAs "are individually trained to perform a task or work for a person with a mental health-related disability. A credible verbal assurance will be sufficient to travel with a PSA," though Southwest adds "all emotional support and service animals must be trained to behave in a public setting and must be under the control of the handler at all times."

With the changes, Southwest said it hoped to add clarity to its rules for flying with service and support animals.

ÒWe welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers,Ó Steve Goldberg, SouthwestÕs Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality, said in a statement announcing the changes. ÒHowever, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.Ó

Southwest said it crafted its updated animal policies after reviewing Òthe recent enforcement guidance issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT)Ó and evaluating feedback from both customers and employees. The company said it also consulted Òwith numerous advocacy groups that represent customers with disabilities who travel with service animals.Ó

With the change, Southwest joins several other U.S. carriers Ð including American, Delta and United Ð in trying to tighten rules on flying with ESAs amid rising concerns that some have been abusing the right to bring the animals onto planes.

American was the latest, updating its emotional support animal rules in May. That change followed a Delta update in January and United Airlines in February.

Airlines decided to revise their own rules after a Transportation Department panel was unable to reach a compromise in 2016. Emotional-support animals fell under a looser definition than trained service animals, such as for the blind or deaf, while still traveling for free in the cabin rather than being shipped in cargo.

Delta said its changes came as the airline carried about 250,000 animals last year that were increasingly misbehaving by wandering the cabin, defecating or even biting passengers. A comfort dog bit a passenger in the face while a flight boarded last June.

United's change came after a woman tried to bring a peacock with her on a flight. But United began reviewing its policy in 2017 after noticing a jump in comfort animals on flights to 76,000 from 43,000 the year before and Òa significant increase in onboard incidents."

Copyright 2018 Gannett. All rights reserved. From
By Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY. Contributing: Bart Jansen.

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