Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) is tightening its policies regarding support animals on flights, with the changes scheduled to take effect on Sept. 17. In the most notable change, psychiatric-service animals, which are trained to help people with a mental disability, will still be permitted on its flights, but only if it is a dog, cat, or miniature horse. “Unusual or exotic” animals in this category will no longer be accepted.
Passengers would be limited to one emotional support animal on the flight and that animal must be in a crate or on a leash at all times. A complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional is still required and must be presented on the day of departure.
In a statement announcing the changes, Southwest’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg said, “We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers. However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.”
Several airlines have chosen to tighten its policies on emotional support animals amid rising concerns about bad behavior on their planes. Emotional-support and service animals can fly free of charge and without a carrier under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act. However, airlines have reported a sharp increase in the numbers of such animals aboard, as many have learned to game the system by purchasing the required documentation online.
United Airlines changed its policies on support animals after a woman tried to bring a peacock with her on a flight. Delta Air Lines made its changes after an emotional-support dog bit a passenger in the face during the boarding of a flight last June. Airlines aren’t the only ones making changes to their policies on emotional-support animals. Royal Caribbean Cruises has banned emotional-support animals on its ships starting with reservations made after July 30.