Bravo to Southwest Airlines for joining the other big airlines this week in restricting emotional support animals.

This is long overdue. There have been so many attacks and other incidents recently. Remember the "emotional support peacock" that a Brooklyn artist tried to bring on board United? (May it rest in peace.). And that's to say nothing of the sheer discomfort of learning that the passenger next to you has brought a dog or a cat aboard, claiming that it's needed for emotional support.

Or worse, until recently at least, finding that other passengers were trying to bring aboard "comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders, and more," in the words of an airline lobbying group.

On Tuesday, Southwest Airlines made clear that many of these animals won't fly on their planes anymore, announcing restrictions that bring them about as close as the U.S. Department of Transportation will allow to banning them.

Here are the new Southwest rules, along with the federal guidelines, and how we got to this crazy point in the first place.

"Dogs, cats, and miniature horses."

Specifically, Southwest is joining other airlines in limiting emotional support animals to cats and dogs (just one animal per passenger) and requiring that they be kept on a leash or in a carrier at all times.

Passengers also will "need to present a complete, current letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional on the day of departure" in order to board.

Separately, the airline is putting restrictions on actual trained support animals, and will now "accept only the most common service animals--dogs, cats, and miniature horses."

The changes bring Southwest Airlines into line with the other biggest carriers, such as Delta, United, and American, which announced restrictions earlier this year after the Department of Transportation allowed them.

One big difference: Southwest says it won't require proof of vaccination, as other airlines do, because vaccination requirements vary around the country.

Fly the chaotic skies.

Of course, the changes Southwest is talking about here wouldn't actually have stopped the highly reported stories about animals that bit other passengers, or the passenger aboard an Alaska Airlines flight recently who forced the airline to choose between her emotional support cat and a teenaged girl who was allergic to it.

But this is about as far as the federal government will allow the airlines to go. As I wrote last month, the lobbying group that represents the big airlines has been trying to get the government to allow more restrictions, but it's an uphill battle.

In a filing with the government, Airlines for America points out the eight-fold increase in supposed emotional support animals on some aircraft, along with an:

"...almost uncontrollable surge in passengers trying to travel with 'wild and/or untrainable species' that they claim as emotional support animals, and a 'surge in the number of incidents involving animals manifesting aggressive behavior (including barking, biting, nipping, growling, and fighting) and uncontrolled urinating and defecating...)'"

Last year, a Delta Air Lines passenger was allegedly viscously attacked by a 50-pound emotional support dog. Earlier this year, a little girl on a Southwest Airlines flight was bitten by an emotional support dog (or as Southwest put it, in newspeak: "a support dog's teeth scraped a child's forehead.") And they've attacked flight attendants, as well.

I'm amazed whenever I write about this subject at the significant minority of people who side with the animals over the humans. The comments sections on social media go nuts. When I reported on the little girl bit by a dog on a plane, quite a few people blamed the girl.

That's so insane to my mind--and it's part of how we got here. Air travel is stressful enough. Who really wants to fly with that kind of chaos around them? 

Thankfully, we should have a lot less of it with these new rules.

Published on: Aug 15, 2018
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