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Southwest Airlines ESA Travel Policies | ESARA

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Southwest Airlines ESA Travel Policies

Southwest Airlines welcomes your Emotional Support Animal (ESA) aboard their airlines. They understand that your ESA is an important accommodation for your flight. They have rules and requirements that must be followed for your safety and comfort as well as your ESA's safety and the safety of rest of the passengers. To fly on Southwest Airlines with your ESA, here is what you need to know:

Brown puppy, leading handler down airline aisle Brown puppy, leading handler down airline aisle

Southwest Airlines does not require a specific form to be filled out before approving your ESA; however, they do require you to have a letter from your licensed mental health professional or medical doctor. This letter must be typed on official letterhead from your mental health professional or medical doctor, and it must be dated no more than one year from the date of travel. In fact, we recommend that you keep your travel letter updated and renewed on a yearly basis so that you will always have it available for any unexpected or last-minute travel.

The letter must include the following:

  • State that you are under this professional's care
  • State that you have a mental health related disability (in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM IV))
  • State that your ESA is required for either the flight itself or activities at your destination, due to said mental health related disability
  • State the medical or mental health professional's medical license number, state, and date of issue

Reservation Requirements

You must also include your ESA on your reservation. To do this, use the "Add/Edit Disability Options" on the Enter Traveler Info page. Follow the prompts to add a passenger with a disability and the appropriate items there. Select the options you need and then "Continue" to complete your reservation. You can also notify Southwest of your ESA when you book by telephone, or even call them after a reservation has been made to add your ESA to your reservation.

Before booking your flight, become familiar with the requirements and regulations for ESAs aboard Southwest Airlines. This will help you plan your trip.

Underside of a red and white airplane flying overhead, against blue sky and white fluffy clouds Underside of a red and white airplane flying overhead, against blue sky and white fluffy clouds

Destination Warnings

First, you will need to understand the rules for your destination. Southwest flies to many destinations in the USA, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Different locations have different rules for ESAs and ESAs are not recognized in each country. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the laws for your destination so you can be prepared. For example, although Puerto Rico is part of the United States, it has separate regulations from the continental US. Proper tags and ID are required along with proof of a recent (within 6 months) rabies vaccination and a recent health certificate certifying that the animals do not originate from an area quarantined for rabies. Aruba may need health certificates, microchipping, and rabies vaccination along with other requirements. The Bahamas requires several things including a permit which costs $10. Regardless of the destination, ESA handlers should always check specific requirements with the airport, state, and country where they will be traveling too.

Brown and tan calico cat with green eyes Brown and tan calico cat with green eyes

ESA Animal Restrictions

You must also take note of the animals that Southwest does and does not allow in the cabin of their airplanes. Southwest Airlines does not accept the following unusual or exotic animals inside the cabin of the aircraft as ESAs: rodents, ferrets, insects (including spiders), reptiles, hedgehogs, rabbits, or sugar gliders.

ESA Stowage Policies

When choosing your seat, you must know that ESAs are not allowed in exit rows. Additionally, ESAs can at no time be on the airline seat itself. They can sit on your lap if they are the size of a 2-year-old child or smaller. They may also remain at your feet in your seat's footprint. They must not interfere with other passengers or the aisle, and although it is not a requirement that your ESA is crated, if you want them to be crated, placing them in an airline approved carrier under the seat in front of you is an option, so long as it is properly stowed for takeoffs and landings. When deciding whether to use a carrier to transport your ESA, consider your ESA's behavior and personality. ESAs that are overly fearful or shy in new situations or around other people should not travel unless safely crated, both for the safety and security of fellow passengers and your ESA itself.

ESA Behavior Requirements

Southwest Airlines staff may specifically assess the ESA's behavior prior to boarding to ensure a safe and pleasant flight for everyone on board. Every ESA handler should attend basic obedience type training with their ESA well before the flight so that they can be assured the ESA will respond to basic commands like "come", "sit", and "leave it". It will also make for a less stressful flight for the ESA handler since they will not have to worry about the ESA's behavior. ESAs should always be leashed and under control of the handler at all times. ESA handlers should keep an eye on their ESA to make sure that it isn't receiving unwanted attention from curious children and other passengers. An ESA who is shy or fearful may be most comfortable in a carrier. Keep your ESA's comfort in mind as you travel as well. Be sure to have food, treats, water, and a preferred toy or comfort item in your carry-on bag while you travel.

Underside of a red and white airplane flying overhead, against blue sky and white fluffy clouds Underside of a red and white airplane flying overhead, against blue sky and white fluffy clouds

Airport Pet Reilef Areas

Many airports offer "pet relief areas". Use these areas for your ESA's comfort, as well as to help keep the airport clean and sanitary. For directions to these areas, please ask Southwest Airlines staff at the airport. These pet relief areas are not exclusive to Southwest Airlines and may be used by any ESA traveling with their handler.

Find a U.S. Airport Pet Relief Center

Boarding Procedures

When you arrive at your gate, it is possible that the airline employees will ask certain questions about your ESA to determine that it meets the qualifications to fly as an ESA as opposed to a pet. It may be helpful to have a hard copy of your travel letter handy in this situation, so that it may be quickly and easily retrieved to answer these questions. It also help to have it written down so that you do not need to state personal things out loud that other passengers may hear.

These are the basic guidelines. Be sure to contact Southwest Airlines if you have further concerns or questions.

View All Southwest Airlines ESA Policies