Southwest Airlines will look less like a zoo.
Passengers will be allowed to bring only cats and dogs on board as emotional support animals beginning in September, and only one per customer. The animals must be on a leash or in a carrier at all times.
Southwest says passengers will now need to present a letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure.
The airline will also limit the types of trained service animals in the cabin. Only dogs, cats and miniature horses will be allowed. Service animals are specially trained to help people with disabilities.
Fliers have become increasingly bold in bringing animals on planes.
In January, a woman reportedly tried to board a United Airlines flight with an emotional support peacock. Delta says passengers have also flown with “comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.” Say what?
The airline industry has called on the Transportation Department to update its guidelines for animals on planes. A public comment period for changes closed in July.
Delta, for example, recently announced that it would be enforcing stricter requirements for emotional support animals on its flights. The change came after several pet safety-related incidents and complaints of dog poop and urine in its plane cabins.
Unlike service dogs that are trained to physically help their disabled owners by performing tasks, the purpose of an emotional support dog is to provide comfort to those suffering from mental or psychiatric disabilities. No special training is needed for a pet to become a support animal, and only a letter from a doctor has been required by Delta and other airlines in the past in order to fly with one.
However, the airline started a new policy in March that requires passengers to sign a statement vouching that their animal is well-behaved, as well as provide proof of good health and up-to-date vaccination records for their dog or other animal at least 48 hours before traveling.
The stricter requirements are being implemented in conjunction with Delta’s claim that there’s been a 150 percent increase in service and support animals since 2015 and a corresponding 85 percent uptick in animal-related problems on their airline since 2016.
Written by Jordan Valinsky for CNN with additional reporting by Simplemost staff.
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