People who travel with their pets, including those with service or emotional support animals, have faced a year of changes.
Southwest Airlines is the most recent air carrier to announce an overhaul to its pet policy, following in the footsteps of Delta and United, both of whom made similar announcements earlier this year.
Like Delta and United, the changes to Southwest’s pet policy are mainly focused on service and emotional support animals. According to the airline’s website, the changes will take effect on Sept. 17 of this year.
“We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our Customers,” said Steve Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality, in a statement about the changes. “However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.”
Before deciding on the pet policy changes, Southwest staff consulted with customers, employees and advocacy groups for those with disabilities. The changes they arrived on mainly include limitations on emotional support animals.
Effective Sept. 17, only one emotional support animal per customer will be allowed on Southwest flights. This animal much be a cat or dog and must remain in a carrier under the seat in front of the owner or on a leash held by the owner from boarding to deplaning. Customers traveling with emotional support animals will still need to present a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.
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As for service animals, only dogs, cats and miniature horses will be allowed on Southwest flights as service animals. Additionally, the owners of these service animals must be able to provide verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal.
“Southwest also will introduce an enhancement that recognizes fully trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) as trained service animals. Southwest informally accepted PSAs as trained service animals in the past and the airline is pleased to formalize the acceptance of this type of service animal based upon Customer feedback,” Southwest’s press release stated. “PSAs are individually trained to perform a task or work for a person with a mental health-related disability. A credible verbal assurance will be sufficient to travel with a PSA.”
“The ultimate goal with these changes is to ensure Customers traveling with service animals know what to expect when choosing Southwest,” said Goldberg.
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