Does Southwest Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animal Does Southwest Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals?

Does Southwest Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals?

Southwest is one of America's largest airlines and often ranks at the top in handling the most domestic flights. Southwest used to allow Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), but the Southwest Emotional Support Animal Policy changed dramatically in early 2021. While many Americans were banned from traveling or otherwise subject to pandemic restrictions, the airlines fought back and lobbied for changes to the policy. The Southwest Emotional Support Animal Policy of allowing ESAs on board no longer applies, except for trained canines. 

As a result of this policy change, DoNotPay wants to explain the company's changes, update the public information about modifications to ESA policies on many airlines (including American Airlines, Southwest, and United), and inform the public about their options moving forward with ESA dogs or other animals. DoNotPay's Emotional Support Animals Product provides an array of information about ESAs, including ESA letters, ESA letter examples, ESA letters for housing, ESAs, and the Fair Housing Act.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal? 

Throughout the years, many have observed that those who kept pets experienced longer lives and that pets could even lower the blood pressure of some of their owners through their healing properties.

The field of psychology began to introduce Emotional Support Animals after finding that those impacted by debilitating emotional conditions, such as major anxiety or depressive disorders, experienced relief when accompanied by an animal. The legal framework began to change in response to ESAs, which were rewarded with increased freedom and access to public spaces until this recent curtailment.

The formal idea of an ESA is that: 

  • ESAs provide psychological benefits to owners facing psychological conditions like anxiety, depression, and phobias.
  • ESAs can be accommodated under Fair Housing Acts, etc., where people with these known conditions frequent.
  • ESAs can be accepted into private establishments where business owners think they’re permissible.
  • An ESA is technically classified as a pet and would be different from a dog trained as a service dog, such as a seeing-eye dog, etc. 
  • The ADA classifies the qualifications for ESAs and service animals differently.
  • Service dogs or ADA-approved service dogs are trained in tasks, such as navigating a street for the blind, that differ from the skills and comfort offered by ESAs.
  • ESAs are not just limited to dogs, but can include other species and breeds. Service animals, on the other hand, are those helping the blind or physically disabled and only tend to be dogs.

The table below outlines the differences between an emotional support animal and a service animal:

ESAService Animal
DefinitionA pet, whose presence is determined to be needed for a patient’s mental health. The pet is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are dogs that are trained to perform tasks or do work for people with disabilities.
Does the assistance animal have access to public areas?NoYes
Can the assistance animal be banned or restricted when the owner is obtaining housing?NoNo
Will the owner of the assistance animal be charged a pet deposit for living with one?NoNo
Is the assistance animal allowed on flights free of charge?NoYes

Emotional Support Animals and Southwest Airlines 

Unfortunately, major changes in airline policies resulted in hearings that involved the United States Department of Transportation and the Air Carrier Access Act. In early 2021, changes to the Air Carrier Access Act went into effect. These modifications stated that airlines did not have to allow ESAs onboard. Consequently, the major four aircraft carriers in the United States, including Southwest Airlines, opted to ban ESAs.

The current policy is as follows (from the Southwest website announcement):

  • Customers may only bring on animals trained to assist with disabilities, per the ADA qualifications.
  • This means that ESAs are classified as pets, and ADA guidelines apply.
  • The animal must be trained in disability-oriented tasks instead of emotional support, although some psychiatric conditions do qualify under the umbrella of a disability.
  • Travelers must complete a DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form that certifies the status of their pet.
  • The document is available online and their service counters.
  • ESAs are being sent to fly as part of the pets program, requiring a charge.
  • Otherwise, ESAs may still be allowed in-cabin if they fit existing size allocations and species requirements, etc.

Regardless of the ruling, DoNotPay may assist with a Southwest ESA Letter and help customers get exemptions from this rule. 

How to Fly With ESA Animals In-flight by Yourself

This language in the press releases shows a firm policy against ESAs being allowed onboard. In part, this movement stemmed from airline complaints and exaggerated stories involving ESAs that were species like ducks or squirrels.

If you wish to fly with your ESA onboard, here's how:

  1. Fill out the documentation ahead of time and get it certified as a pet with disability requirements, if applicable.
  2. Attempt to get it reclassified under the ADA psychiatric definitions and have the ESA be an exemption.
  3. Argue this point with the airlines and staff at the gates.
  4. Be prepared to have the pet sent into the pets program and a charge.
  5. Win the argument and have the pet fly with you based on ESA letters, persuasiveness, etc.

How to Fly With ESA Animals With DoNotPay's Help 

It sounds like Southwest will make it a point to crack down on ESAs being allowed on the planes with guests. This means that employees will likely be responsible for enforcing the policy as part of their jobs. When it comes to people being instructed to forbid ESAs as part of what they must do to keep their jobs, it will be tough to win an argument against them on a company-wide basis.

Luckily, DoNotPay and legal help will be of the utmost importance here. The more allies involved, the more likely an ESA will be able to provide comfort onboard. Although ESAs may be classified as pets, not everyone agrees that they fail to provide emotional support and valuable services to their owners. 

Here's how DoNotPay can help:

Through our new Service and Emotional Support Animals product, DoNotPay can help you with all of your ESA-related concerns, including contacting your landlord about your ESA, asking airlines about their accommodation options, and finding the most affordable online ESA-letter service.

  1. Search "service animal" on DoNotPay.


  2. Select the type of issue you need help with, including contacting your landlord about your ESA/service animal, asking your airline about ESA options, or requesting ESA/service accommodations at other venues.


  3. Answer a series of questions about your current situation and the details of your ESA/service animal, so we can generate the best results for you.


And that's it! Depending on your issue, DoNotPay will generate a letter to your landlord and mail it on your behalf, contact the airline agency and get back to you with an answer, or send a letter to your mental health professional requesting an ESA letter.

Want your issue solved now?