Southwest Airlines ESA Policy 

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: October 14, 2022

Southwest Airlines ESA PolicyDo you know the Southwest Airlines ESA policy? Before you pack your bags—and your pooch or kitty, make sure you’re well aware of your responsibilities as a passenger!

People suffering from emotional and mental disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression, may find the entire travel ordeal to be quite overwhelming. Fortunately, emotional support animals are there to help us during such difficult times.

Here we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Southwest Airlines ESA policy.

**Please note, as of January 11, 2021, under new regulations passed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the allowance of Emotional Support Animals onboard flights may vary from airline to airline. Please contact your airline of choice for their most up-to-date policies on Emotional Support Animals.

Southwest Airlines ESA Policy: Pet Fee for Non-ESAs

The Southwest Airlines ESA policy and pet policy can be quite strict. According to the Southwest Pet policy, there is a mandatory charge of $95 per way should you choose to travel with your pet. Owners traveling with pets in the aircraft cabin are required to have their pets placed in an appropriate pet carrier at all times. Should you choose to travel with your pet, then you’ll need to call in advance to make a reservation.

Unfortunately, the Southwest Airlines pets policy only allow 6 pet carriers per flight. So, if you want to get your little dog on the flight then know that Southwest Airlines reserves pets on a first-come-first-served basis.

Now, if you’re traveling with an emotional support animal or service animal. Then you are not subjected to any flight fee. Additionally, emotional support animals and service animals don’t count towards the 6 pet carrier limit on a Southwest Airlines flight.

A List of ESAs That Are Permitted on Southwest Airlines

The Southwest Airlines pet policy dictates that only a companion animal such as a pet dog or a cat is allowed to travel on their flight. As such, the Southwest Airlines ESA policy only allow an emotional support dog or cat, to accompany their owners.

Breed Restrictions

As of September 17, 2018, only cats and dogs are permitted on Southwest flight but that’s it. Assistance animals included (unless service animal where you can also bring a miniature guide horse) However, if the dog or cat shows any form of aggressive behavior then they will not be allowed on a flight.

It is important to note that the Airlines pet policy requires dogs and cats to remain in their carrier for the entire duration of the flight. The carriers need to meet the specific length, width, and height guidelines, so that it may easily slip under your seat. If you’re traveling with a large breed dog then you may not be able to use Southwest Airlines. If the animal is unable to be accommodated in the space of a single seat, Southwest’s policy states that the customer may be required to purchase an additional ticket or rebook their flight.

ACAA and ESAs: What You Need to Know Alert Southwest Airlines You Will Be Bringing Your ESA!

One of the biggest federal law protecting ESA owners is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This law states that any person with either a mental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disability—has the right to be accompanied by their psychiatric service animal, service animal, or emotional support animal in the aircraft cabin.

Generally, you are required to notify the airlines about your assistance animal, 48 hours prior to your departure date. However, according to the Southwest Airlines ESA policy—a person with a disability is not required to notify the airline about their ESA.

However, it is highly recommended that they do so 24 hours prior to the departure date. Additionally,  Southwest Airlines indicates that when first booking your flight, you can indicate that you will be traveling with an assistance animal.


Southwest Airlines ESA Policy: Bring And Fill Out The Required Documents/Forms! One of the Most Important Steps!

Southwest Airlines ESA policy states that the most important document you are responsible for bringing is an emotional support letter. You are, however, responsible for any other documents such veterinary health forms, vaccinated health records, permits, etc that are specific to your travel destination.

ESA Letter

A passenger traveling with an ESA will require an ESA letter that is on the letterhead of their licensed mental health professional. Your mental health professional needs to state the following:

  • Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM IV). You suffer from a recognized emotional disability or mental disability. This can be anything from depression and anxiety, to post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The date at which your mental health professional issued your ESA letter.
  • The need for you to request a reasonable accommodation for air travel.

If you do not have a verified emotional support animal letter then you will not be able to fly with your ESA. Take CertaPet’s free, 5-minute pre-screening to see if you qualify and if you do, we’ll help you get connected to one of our LMHPs in your state.

Free ESA Assessment Test: Do You Qualify for an ESA?
Take CertaPet's famous 5-minute assessment test to know if you could qualify for an emotional support animal. The screening test is completely free and provides instant result once you are done.
Rated 5.00/5.00 by Certapet
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Optional: Veterinary Health Form

The Southwest Airlines ESA policy does not necessarily state that you require a veterinary health form in order to board their aircraft. However, it is vital that you do bring a veterinary health form as your country of destination may require further documentation.

Optional: Copy of the Animal’s Current Shot Record

Southwest Airlines ESA policy dictates that all animals need to be vaccinated prior to boarding any flight.

Optional: Signed Testament to the Animal’s Behavior

Southwest Airlines ESA policy makes no specific mention to the fact that you need a signed testament to the animal’s behavior. However, the airline does state that they have the right to reject an emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal should the animal display any aggressive behaviors.

Know Southwest Airlines Pet Carrier Requirements!

Southwest Airlines can have very specific carrier requirements for pets!

What’s Acceptable

If a passenger is traveling with a pet, then they are required to carry the appropriate pet carrier. For a small dog, the acceptable pet carrier should be 17” long x 9.5” high x 10” wide). A passenger can choose to purchase a pet carrier directly from Southwest airlines for $58.

Other acceptable pet carriers should:

  • Be 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide.
  • Pet carriers can be either a soft-sided or hard-sided type crate.
  • All carriers should fit easily under the passenger’s seat
  • Carriers should be leak proof

What’s Restricted

Southwest Airlines Pet policy makes no specific mention of what types of pet carriers are restricted. Nevertheless, they do mention that restrictions to pet travel apply in the following situations:

  • The pet traveling in the carrier does not have sufficient space to stand up straight or turn around properly
  • The pet cannot travel on the aircraft if they are less than 8 weeks old.
  • Pets cannot be checked in as baggage. Southwest Airlines do not accept pets in the cargo compartment.
  • A pet cannot occupy a seat, exit seat, or block the aisle.

“Where Does My ESA Go Once I’m on the Plane?”

Once you’ve boarded the aircraft, you will be directed to your seat by the flight attendant. An emotional support dog is not allowed to take up seats or block aisles. As such, your emotional support animal will be required to sit near your feet during the flight.

Prepare Your ESA for Flight!

Traveling with an ESA should be as stress-free as possible! Remember, they’re there to better your mental health and not make it worse.

Teach Your Dog The Proper Behavior When in Public and on the Airplane

When traveling with your emotional support dog, it’s crucial that you make sure they can:

  • Behave properly in public situations
  • Know the basic commands such as, “sit”, “stay”, “quite”
  • Do not display any aggressive behaviors and does not growl or bark
  • Is able to walk properly on a leash

They’re There For Your Comfort, Not Disturbance

Though an emotional support dog is no service dog, they still do require a lot of personal training in order to make sure they behave well. Remember, you wouldn’t want an over-active, hyper dog, tugging you through the entire airport!

Read ESA Owners’ First-Hand Flying Experience on Southwest Airlines

Traveling with an ESA on Southwest Airlines can be fun and enjoyable! Here’s what happy customers have to say about their experience with Southwest Airlines!

“I have flown with my ESA dog on many airlines since I travel for work. Southwest is by far the best and easiest airline to fly with” ~Angie

“Southwest is wonderful when my emotional support dog Milo and I fly out of Midway. The process is so easy compared to other airlines. All that I have to do is show my ESA letter when I get my boarding pass and check my luggage” ~Aggie

“Layla is my ESA, so even though she was 60 lbs at the time she was able to fly by my side. Southwest made sure I boarded first and got the front row seating.” ~ Steven

Are You Traveling Internationally? Check Out Location-Specific Resources to See If Your ESA is Allowed

Traveling with Southwest Airlines can truly be a remarkable experience. If choosing to travel internationally, then you may be subjected to restrictions. Check out the Southwest Airlines international assistance and emotional support animals section for more information on location-specific regulation.

Free ESA Assessment Test: Do You Qualify for an ESA?
Take CertaPet's famous 5-minute assessment test to know if you could qualify for an emotional support animal. The screening test is completely free and provides instant result once you are done.
Rated 5.00/5.00 by Certapet
Take the Test
Check out Southwest Airlines Pet Policy here to read the overall guide to traveling with your pet, ESA or not.

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