Emotional Support Animal Policy

Old Oct 1, 13, 6:00 pm
  #1  
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Emotional Support Animal Policy

Hi Everyone,

I will be flying with my dog who is also my emotional support animal. I read on the Southwest website that a letter from my therapist is needed in order for her to fly with me, which I of course will provide on my upcoming flight.

My question is-and this is for anyone who has also flown with an emotional support animal-can she sit on my lap during the flight or does she still have to be in a carrier underneath the seat in front of me?

I have been on multiple Southwest flights and have seen therapy dogs sitting on the laps of their owners, however, since she is an ESA and not a "therapy" dog, I don't know if the rules are different. It would be pointless to fly with her if I had to put her underneath the seat in front of me.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
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Old Oct 1, 13, 6:31 pm
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Originally Posted by AZChick View Post
Hi Everyone,

I will be flying with my dog who is also my emotional support animal. I read on the Southwest website that a letter from my therapist is needed in order for her to fly with me, which I of course will provide on my upcoming flight.

My question is-and this is for anyone who has also flown with an emotional support animal-can she sit on my lap during the flight or does she still have to be in a carrier underneath the seat in front of me?

I have been on multiple Southwest flights and have seen therapy dogs sitting on the laps of their owners, however, since she is an ESA and not a "therapy" dog, I don't know if the rules are different. It would be pointless to fly with her if I had to put her underneath the seat in front of me.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
Likely depends on the size of the animal. While no dimensions or weights are specified, any ESA big enough that it "obstructs expeditious evacuation in the unlikely event of an emergency" would be disallowed in the lap.

You obviously realize it's the crew's call.

A 50 pound lab - and I dearly love labs - might constitute an obstruction.
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Old Oct 1, 13, 6:51 pm
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I sat directly in front of a bored ESA that crawled forward and rested its head between my feet.

Waiting a few minutes, I bent down to pet it and say hello.

The 12-year-old owner went full-throated ballistic.
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Old Oct 1, 13, 7:13 pm
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Originally Posted by AZChick View Post

I have been on multiple Southwest flights
And where has your dog been riding previously?
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Old Oct 1, 13, 7:24 pm
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She's 9 pounds, so she can certainly fit on my lap. I just got her a few weeks ago, so this is the first time she has travelled with me.
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Old Oct 1, 13, 8:57 pm
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Originally Posted by AZChick View Post
She's 9 pounds, so she can certainly fit on my lap. I just got her a few weeks ago, so this is the first time she has travelled with me.
Emotional Support Animals

Animals used for a Customer's emotional support are accepted in the cabin. In order for a Customer to travel with an emotional support animal, the Customer must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee current documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer's mental health-related disability stating:

The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM IV)
The Passenger needs the emotional support of psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger's destination
The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the Passenger is under his or her professional care AND
The date and type of mental health professional's or medical doctor's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued

Assistance and emotional support animals must be trained to behave in a public setting. Customers traveling with an assistance animal or an emotional support animal cannot sit in an emergency exit seat.
From here.

Also in this pdf.
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Old Oct 2, 13, 10:36 pm
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Originally Posted by LegalTender View Post
I sat directly in front of a bored ESA that crawled forward and rested its head between my feet.

Waiting a few minutes, I bent down to pet it and say hello.

The 12-year-old owner went full-throated ballistic.
Was the animal wearing anything to identify it as a working animal? Vest, scarf, maybe?

Was the owner perhaps autistic and had to service animal to assist with issues related to that condition?
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Old Oct 3, 13, 12:02 am
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Originally Posted by CDTraveler View Post
Was the animal wearing anything to identify it as a working animal? Vest, scarf, maybe?
It'd be very difficult to know it was an ESA or working dog if you only saw the dog's head poking out under your seat.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 12:26 am
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Pardon my ignorance, but can someone tell me what an emotional support animal does?
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Old Oct 3, 13, 3:39 am
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Originally Posted by BizFlyin View Post
Pardon my ignorance, but can someone tell me what an emotional support animal does?
Well, they provide emotional support, of course, of course.

I personally do not think they belong out of their carriers, but I suppose that will start an uproar.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 4:57 am
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Originally Posted by BizFlyin View Post
Pardon my ignorance, but can someone tell me what an emotional support animal does?
As they provide unwavering companionship, they provide emotional comfort to the owner. They have been found to be very effective as companions to children with specific needs and to the elderly that have mental problems such as dementia. There are other cases involving all ages, but the determination should be made by a mental health professional.

Their widespread use is becoming controversial as it is felt that many people with typical devotion to their pets assign emotional support status to them garnering the privileges of the designation without a valid corresponding professional determination.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 6:00 am
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Originally Posted by InkUnderNails View Post
Their widespread use is becoming controversial as it is felt that many people with typical devotion to their pets assign emotional support status to them garnering the privileges of the designation without a valid corresponding professional determination.
There are some web sites out there that seem to promise the necessary "letter of prescription" for a modest fee, and say things like "live anywhere and travel with "your friend" without pet fees".
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Old Oct 3, 13, 1:31 pm
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Originally Posted by tatterdema View Post
I personally do not think they belong out of their carriers, but I suppose that will start an uproar.
Concur - dare we speculate that most of the pet owners who claim their dogs are ESA are fakers who simply don't want pay to transport the (caged) animal in the cabin (as the rest of us are required to do)? I have yet to see any ESAs wearing the vests that are almost always found on guide dogs for the blind.

Unfortunately I have found that many companies (e.g. Starbucks) maintain policies that do not permit employees to question anyone claiming this condition or to require medical documentation for ESAs which leaves the field open for fakers. However if you look up the applicable federal ADA guidelines you'll find that it is perfectly legal for anyone to question the owner as to what services the animal provides. "Emotional support" is not legit under the ADA guidelines that apply to restaurants, so it has been my experience that most owners will claim that the animal detects seizures (because that's impossible to verify) as opposed to vision impairment (which is rarely faked and easily verified).

I know where this thread is headed, so let me be the first to say "In before the lock!"

Last edited by Boraxo; Oct 9, 13 at 12:05 am Reason: Edited per moderator request
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Old Oct 3, 13, 2:19 pm
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While ESA's are not recognized as Service Anamail under the ADA, that requires special training and certification. The Fair Housing Act and The Air Carrier Access Act do recognize them and require accommodation and waiver of fees.

ESAs have been shown to be of benefit, but I also believe that the designation is abused fairly often.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 3:41 pm
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I don't always fly with an ESA, but when I do, I take Charlotte.
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