Leave your emotional support peacock at home: Southwest is rolling out new service animal policies

As Southwest Airlines updates its policies for service animals allowed aboard its flights, travelers on the airline will have to leave their emotional support peacocks, hamsters and pigs behind.

Southwest, one of the major airlines serving Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, will begin limiting the types of service animals allowed on its planes to dogs, cats and miniature horses as part of new rules the company is rolling out Sept. 17, according to the airline.

While the Dallas-based airline’s current policies bar exotic and unusual animals from flying as service animals in its cabins, the rules do not explicitly state which species of animals are allowed.

The new rules lay out permissible animals and outline three tiers of service animals that will be recognized by the airline: emotional support animals, trained service animals and psychiatric support animals. Psychiatric support animals, which are trained to provide specific tasks for people with mental health-related disabilities, have not been formally recognized by Southwest under its current service animal policies.

Under the updated rules, dogs and cats are the only creatures allowed to travel as emotional support animals, and customers must present a letter from a doctor or mental health professional on the day of their flight documenting the need for the animal.

Southwest will accept dogs, cats and miniature horses as trained service animals. Customers with disabilities need only provide verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal. The same rules apply for psychiatric support animals as Southwest begins formally accepting them.

Southwest updated its guidelines based on feedback from the Department of Transportation, customers, employees and advocacy groups for people with disabilities who travel with service animals.

“The ultimate goal with these changes is to ensure customers traveling with service animals know what to expect when choosing Southwest,” said Steve Goldberg, the Dallas-based airline’s senior vice president of operations and hospitality, in a statement.

Southwest’s updated rules come after several airlines made headlines this year when customers attempted to bring unorthodox service animals on flights. One woman flushed her dwarf hamster down an airport toilet after she said a Spirit Airlines representative would not allow her to board with the rodent. Another woman was barred from boarding a United Airlines flight with her emotional support peacock.

All service and support animals traveling aboard Southwest planes must be well behaved and under the control of their handler throughout the flight.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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