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Southwest joins other airlines in banning emotional support animals

Southwest Airlines has joined other major US carriers in banning emotional support animals.

Effective March 1, the airline will no longer transport emotional support animals, according to a policy announced Monday. Trained service dogs will still be allowed.

A new Department of Transportation regulation went into effect on January 11 that says airlines aren’t required to treat emotional support animals as service animals.

Delta, United, Alaska, JetBlue and American Airlines have already announced that they will no longer allow emotional support animals.

The animals are prescribed by mental health professionals to provide comfort and support, but unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to have training in specific tasks.

The DOT rule, announced in December, defines a service animal as a dog “trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.”

Southwest customers traveling with trained service dogs must now fill out a Department of Transportation form pertaining to the animal’s health, behavior and training. This form is a new requirement for many US airlines.

“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 Airlines senior vice president of operations and hospitality.

Delta, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue all stopped taking new reservations involving emotional support animals on January 11, 2021. Most travel with the animals will be completed by the end of February.

American Airlines says existing bookings for emotional support animals will be honored only through the end of January. Animals that previously traveled as emotional support animals may travel as carry-on or cargo pets, American Airlines said.

Concern that passengers were fraudulently passing off their pets as the more loosely defined and fee-free category of emotional support animals is part of what prompted airlines to ask the DOT to review this issue.

The DOT rule was also prompted by an increase in service animal complaints from passengers with disabilities, misbehavior by emotional support animals, a lack of clarity around the definition of “service animal” and disruptions caused by “requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft,” according to the DOT.

Pigs and peacocks are among the unexpected animals that have previously flown as emotional support animals.

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