Southwest Airlines will ban emotional support animals from all flights effective March 1, in accordance with a new final rule issued by the Department of Transportation in December.
According to Southwest senior vice president of operations and hospitality Steve Goldberg, the move will allow the airline to "address numerous concerns raised by the public and airline employees regarding the transport of untrained animals in the cabins of aircraft."
Southwest customers may still travel with their cat or dog as part of the airline's existing pets program for a charge of $95 each way per pet carrier. However, the animals must meet all applicable requirements regarding in-cabin stowage.
Customers with existing reservations for travel with unaccepted animals after Feb. 28 should contact Southwest for more information and assistance.
In addition, Southwest will limit service animals on flights to dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. The DOT rule allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler's foot space on the airplane, and mandate that the animal be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times on the plane and within the airport during the travel journey.
As a result, customers traveling with trained service dogs must now present a complete and accurate DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form at the gate or ticket on their day of travel to affirm a service animal's health, behavior, and training.
The form, which should be completed after booking travel, is available both online at Southwest's website and in person at airport locations. Cusomters should provide the form at check-in with a ticket counter or gate agent or up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if booked before that time.
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Southwest is the latest airline to make the changes to align with the new Department of Transportation regulations, following similar announcements from competitors American Airlines earlier this month and Alaska Airlines last month.
The Department of Transportation was prompted to revise its rules partly because passengers carrying unusual animals on board “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.” It also cited the increasing frequency of people “fraudulently representing their pets as service animals,” and a rise in misbehavior by emotional-support animals, ranging from peeing on the carpet to biting other passengers.
The Transportation Department proposed the new rule back in January 2019 and received more than 15,000 comments. While 3,000 commenters favored dropping protections for support animals, 6,000 spoke in favor of them, including people suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, the department said.
Fox News Janine Puhak and the Associated Press contributed to this report