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Southwest becomes last major US airline to ban emotional support animals

Southwest becomes last major US airline to ban emotional support animals
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Southwest Airlines on Monday became the last major U.S. carrier to ban emotional support animals on its flights.

Effective March 1, Southwest will only accept trained service dogs for travel and will no longer recognize emotional support animals, the company announced.

Southwest defined service dogs as those “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability to travel with the Customer.” Only dogs are accepted as trained service animals, the company said.

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Customers can bring other dogs or cats as pets for a fee, but they must be stored under seats.

The changes come after the Department of Transportation issued a final rule limiting the definition of service dog to one “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” 

The rule also states that “carriers are not required to recognize emotional support animals as service animals and may treat them as pets,” though "psychiatric service animals" will be treated as service animals.

Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president for operations and hospitality, said in a statement that the decision “allows us to make these important changes to address numerous concerns raised by the public and airline employees regarding the transport of untrained animals in the cabins of aircraft.”

"Southwest Airlines continues to support the ability of qualified individuals with a disability to bring trained service dogs for travel and remains committed to providing a positive and accessible travel experience for all of our Customers with disabilities.”

Southwest is the last of the major airlines to crack down on emotional support animals on their flights, The Associated Press notes. American Airlines earlier this month announced a ban on emotional support animals that took effect for flights booked on Jan. 11.