Southwest Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and Psychiatric Service Dog Policy

Southwest Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and AirlinesPsychiatric Service Dog Policy

The Bottom Line:

  • Does Southwest Airlines Still Accept ESA Letters? Southwest Airlines' service dog policy no longer includes emotional support animals. You can fly with a psychiatric service dog in the cabin.
  • What Is a PSD Letter? A PSD letter certifies that you have an eligible disability that permits you to travel with a psychiatric service dog. 
  • How Do You Get a PSD Letter? Pettable's process makes it easy to get a PSD letter. Complete a short quiz, consult with a Pettable mental health partner, and receive your letter in as little as 24 hours. 
  • How Do You Qualify for a PSD Letter? You must undergo an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional. The LMHP determines if you have an eligible disability such as autism, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or depression. 
  • How To Get Started? Fill out our 3-minute online assessment to see if you qualify. 

If you have an emotional support animal or psychiatric service dog, you probably take your support animal with you as you travel. Due to the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2021 policy changes, airlines are not required to let ESAs fly. If you want to travel with your ESA or PSD, here's what you need to know about the Southwest Airlines ESA policy.

Recent Changes to Southwest Airlines' ESA Policy

Starting in January 2021, the DOT does not classify ESAs as service animals. Southwest Airlines must approve service dogs for travel, including psychiatric service animals. The only exceptions are if a passenger tries to bring an aggressive service animal or more than two animals aboard.

If you have a psychiatric service dog, you're entitled to fly with it on Southwest Airlines. To prove that your dog is a psychiatric service dog and not an ESA, sign up for a consultation with a certified mental health expert at Pettable. If you're approved, you'll receive a letter confirming that your pet is a service dog and that you're entitled to keep it with you.

How To Fly With Your Psychiatric Service Dog on Southwest Airlines

If your dog helps you address the symptoms of a diagnosed mental health condition, it qualifies as a psychiatric service dog under the Southwest Airlines pet policy. To fly with your service dog, first ensure that your dog is ready for travel. Make accommodations for your dog to relieve itself, or ensure that the flight is short enough that it will not have to urinate or defecate. Take your psychiatric service dog out in public so that it can get used to being around strangers

Next, fill out the U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation form. This form asks for your name and information about your service dog, such as whether the animal was individually trained and whether or not it is up to date with required vaccinations. When you check in at the ticket counter, bring the completed form. You may also be required to show it when you arrive at your gate. Don't be surprised if public and airline employees ask questions about your service dog's purpose.

Unlike with pets, the Southwest Airlines service dog policy does not require you to put your dog in a crate or carrier for the flight. Instead, you must keep your service animal in a harness or on a leash at all times.

Once you board the aircraft, make sure that your dog is not in anyone else's way and that you're not in an emergency exit seat. Do not put your psychiatric service dog on your tray table or on the seat next to you, even if the seat is unoccupied. You can keep your dog on your lap, at your feet, or in a carrier under the row in front of you.

How To Get Your Legitimate Psychiatric Service Dog Letter With Pettable

To prove that your dog is not an ESA, use Pettable's services to get a letter certifying that you're a qualified individual with a PSD. First, take a short survey to see whether your dog qualifies as an ESA or PSD. If your pet is the latter, Pettable sets up a virtual meeting between you and a licensed therapist. Your therapist asks you about your mental health condition, how your dog helps you manage your condition, and whether it is officially or individually trained. 24 hours following this consultation, if you and your dog meet the requirements, you will receive a letter from your therapist certifying that your dog is a PSD and is therefore entitled to positive and accessible travel.

What Is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)?

The Air Carrier Access Act is a law that was initially passed in 1986. This law makes it illegal to prevent people from flying because of their disabilities. Because of this law, airlines such as Southwest Airlines cannot set caps on how many people with disabilities can join a particular flight, nor can they mandate that people with disabilities disclose their conditions before takeoff. They must also ensure that their planes are accessible to people with disabilities.

Emotional Support Animals Under the ACAA

Under the ACAA, Southwest Airlines previously treated ESAs the same as service dogs, allowing them to stay with passengers during flights. Around the same time, airline personnel shared numerous concerns about people abusing the ESA policy. Passengers began using the policy to bring pets onboard even if these animals were not trained to provide mental or emotional support during the flight.

In response to these issues and the new DOT regulations, Southwest Airlines no longer accepts the ACAA as a valid reason to bring an ESA aboard. Beginning on March 1, 2021, only official service dogs such as PSDs can remain with passengers during Southwest flights. As per the DOT ruling, Southwest Airlines continues to recognize that mental disabilities are valid grounds for bringing service dogs aboard the aircraft.

Since the change in regulations, ESAs that do not qualify as PSDs must follow the regulations for standard pets. ESAs are welcome on all domestic flights, except those to Hawaii, as long as they stay in their carriers. Under this new Southwest Airlines ESA policy, only cats and dogs qualify for transport. Although some people consider horses, birds, and other animals their ESAs, these pets cannot travel as service animals.

What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

An emotional support animal is a pet that comforts its owner by providing companionship. ESAs generally do not have specialized skills, but they provide calming or protective presences for their owners.

Psychiatric service dogs perform some of the same functions as ESAs. The difference is that PSDs know how to perform tasks that address their owners' mental health conditions. Some PSDs go through extensive training before being assigned to their owners, while some people with mental disabilities train their own PSDs.

Southwest Airlines' Service Dog Policies

Southwest Airlines continues to support PSDs after the DOT's new ESA ruling. There are some policies to know before traveling with your service dog, though.

Southwest Airlines' Required Documentations

Southwest Airlines mandates that service dog owners complete the DOT form for Service Animal Air Transportation before checking into their flights. The form requires users to attest that their dogs have been vaccinated against rabies, but it does not request proof of vaccination. The airline also recommends that service dog owners also read through the Pet Policy to clarify that their dogs qualify as trained service animals.

Advance Notice

Southwest does not require you to give advance notice about your service dog's presence. If you'd like to expedite your check-in process, when you purchase your ticket, include information about your service dog under the "Special Assistance" tab. You can also call 1-800-435-9792 (the main customer service line) to add details about your service dog.

Other Southwest Airlines ESA Policies

The new ESA policy treats ESAs that aren't official PSDs as pets. As a result, having a letter verifying that your pet is an emotional support animal will not change its ability to stay with you on the plane. Unlike with service dogs, you must let Southwest Airlines know that you are bringing your ESA. If more than six animals requiring pet carriers hold existing reservations, airline employees have the right to refuse your reservation.

Other Southwest Airlines Pet Policies To Know

Read through these pet regulations before contacting airline employees regarding your animal's accommodations.

Southwest Airlines' Pet Fees

It costs $95 to transport a cat or dog in its pet carrier on a Southwest flight. All service dogs that are registered on the animal air transportation form can travel for free, and only dogs can take advantage of this free flight.

Southwest Airlines' Breed Restrictions

The DOT service animal air policy changes do not allow airlines to deny service dogs transportation on the basis of their breeds. Southwest can refuse flight space to trained service dogs if those animals exhibit disruptive behavior. Like other US airlines, the company cannot have blanket bans against pit bull terriers, rottweilers, or any other breeds.

Southwest Airlines' Pet Carrier Size Requirements

All pets on Southwest Airlines flights must be in carriers that are no more than 18.5" long, 9.5" high, and 10" wide. If you don't have a pet carrier that meets these requirements, Southwest offers its own pet carrier that you can purchase for pet or service animal air transportation.

Southwest Airlines' Travel Requirements

Southwest Airlines' rules for animals in the cabins vary based on where you're traveling.

Domestic

Pets and service dogs are allowed on domestic flights departing from airport locations in the continental United States and Alaska. Because Hawaii does not have any cases of rabies, Southwest Airlines remains committed to transporting only service dogs to this state.

International

For international flights, Southwest Airlines does not allow the transport of untrained animals in the cabins. Service animals must travel with the DOT service animal air form. You can bring trained service dogs abroad with you provided that you're traveling to a safe country. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture can ban the movement of dogs from countries that have high instances of rabies.

US Inbound

When flying on Southwest flights into the US, only a trained service animal may accompany you. Additionally, you are limited to only one pet carrier per person, even if you have multiple trained service animals.

Pettable's Tips on How To Fly With Your ESA and Psychiatric Service Dogs

When you're flying with emotional support animals or trained service dogs, getting ready to leave takes more effort than when you're traveling solo. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Plan Your Trip in Advance

It's easier for you, your service animal, and the other customers traveling if you plan this trip well in advance. Contact Southwest to verify that you're bringing an ESA or PSD with you and that your assigned seat is not near an emergency exit. Make sure that you have plenty of food and water for your companion and that it has a bone or toy.

Think About Your Luggage

You can bring either a personal item or a service animal into your aisle. If you're storing a pet carrier at your feet, you're still only allowed to bring one carry-on item. Figure out how to condense your luggage, or pay for an extra checked bag.

Practice Your Trip

A few weeks before your existing reservations, practice flying with your pet. Put it into the carrier, grab everything you need, and drive to the airport. Figure out if you'll need help transporting everything from your car to the terminal, and see how early you need to arrive.

FAQ

Get answers to some of the frequently asked questions about preparing ESAs and PSDs for air travel.

Do Service Dogs Fly for Free on Southwest Airlines?

Yes. Southwest does not charge customers for the animal when flying with service dogs, including PSDs.

Does Southwest Airlines Allow ESA dogs?

Southwest allows ESA dogs, but only service dogs can fly without fees or carriers. To address numerous concerns raised about the abuse of ESA classifications, ESAs that are not PSDs must fly as pets.

Can Southwest Airlines Deny My ESA?

Yes. Because ESAs are not qualified to work or perform tasks that support their owners' mental health, Southwest can deny ESAs room on a flight because of space concerns or aggressive behavior. They can also prevent ESAs from flying if passengers do not comply with in-cabin stowage requirements or payments.

Which Airlines Are Still Allowing ESA Dogs?

If you want to guarantee that your ESA dog can fly with you, WestJet, Volaris, Latam Airlines, Asiana Air, Air France, China Airlines, KLM, Singapore Air, and Lufthansa still allow ESAs. Each airline has its own weight restrictions and other applicable requirements.

Can My Dog Sit on My Lap During a Southwest Airlines Flight?

Only trained service dogs can sit on your lap during a Southwest flight. Additionally, the dog must be smaller than a two-year-old child, and it cannot restrict anyone else's movement through the aircraft.