Southwest Airlines has made the decision to no longer allow emotional support animals on their flights following a decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) last month to revise the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals.
According to Southwest Airlines, emotional support animals will be banned from their flights from March 1, 2021.
“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,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement released on Monday evening. “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.”
The airline said that customers who do travel with trained service dogs must now present a completed Service Animal Air Transportation Form issued by the DOT at the gate or ticket counter at the airport and must include details on the animal’s health, behavior and training.
"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 at Southwest. "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."
Southwest said that passengers may still travel with some animals for a charge, which has been a standard part of their existing pets program, but those animals must meet all requirements regarding in-cabin stowage and are restricted to cats and dogs only.
The U.S. Department of Transportation changed the ACAA in an announcement on Dec. 2, 2020 saying that passengers had been abusing the privilege of emotional support animals and the practice had "eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals."
The DOT said it was prompted in part by an increase in travelers "fraudulently representing their pets as service animals" to avoid charges for transporting pets.There are records of passengers bringing miniature horses, hamsters, pigs and even peacocks on board airlines which people have claimed as emotional support animals.
The DOT said in their new ruling on Dec. 2: “The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking. The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.”