Southwest Airlines Pet Policy Guide (Fees, Carriers, & Size Limits) [2020]

Southwest Airlines, like many other airlines, allows you to fly with your pet but there are some rules and restrictions you need to know about before jumping on a plane with your four-legged friend.

This comprehensive article will walk you through all of the rules and policies you need to know for flying in-cabin with your pet, such as fees and size restrictions. I’ll also discuss the rules for emotional support and service animals. For more tips on flying Southwest, click here.  


What is the Southwest Airlines pet policy?

Southwest Airlines allows small vaccinated domestic cats and dogs to travel with you in-cabin under the seat in front of you for $95 per one-way.


Southwest Airlines pet policy fees

As stated, pets traveling on Southwest Airlines are subject to a $95 Pet Fare each way per pet carrier. Unlike normal Southwest fares, these fees are nonrefundable and may not be applied toward future-date travel if unused.

So you need to really be sure that you’re going to be flying with your pet or else you could be wasting close to $100 on your pet.


How to make Reservations for pets on Southwest

You can make your reservations for U.S. domestic flights by calling the following Southwest phone number: 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).

On the day of travel, you must bring the pet to the airport in an approved pet carrier. You will proceed to the airport ticket counter to check the pet in and pay the Pet Fare before going to the departure gate. 


In-cabin pet carriers

You’ll need to make sure that you have a qualified in-cabin pet carrier when taking your pet aboard Southwest Airlines.

Southwest sells an official pet carrier for $58 (tax included) at any Southwest Airport Ticket Counter or online (tax not included) at Southwest: The Store (this is not an affiliate of Southwest Airlines Co.). These purchases are nonrefundable.

If I were planning on purchasing one from the airport, I would try to call ahead and make sure that there are carriers available, especially if I was doing this at a smaller, regional airport. That is because there are some reports of airports not being stocked with pet carriers. 

Pet carrier specs

If you’re not going to purchase your carrier directly from Southwest, you just need to make sure that it abides by the following restrictions:

  • Maximum dimensions of 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide.
  • Soft-sided and hard-sided carriers specifically designed as pet carriers are acceptable.
  • The carriers must be leak-proof and well ventilated.
  • The pet carrier must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of the Customer and be stowed in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

It is not very difficult to find a pet carrier that complies with the above regulations. If you are looking for airline approved pet carriers here is one you can get on Amazon for pretty cheap. 

Additional pet carrier rules

There are also some additional restrictions you need to be aware of:

One pet carrier per ticketed passenger

  • Southwest Airlines allows only one pet carrier per ticketed Passenger.

If you need to transport multiple pet carriers then you will need to be flying with someone else. Just keep in mind that there is a limit on the total number of carriers allowed on a plane and you can find out more about that below. 

Carriers may only contain two cats or dogs

  • The carrier may contain two (2) cats or dogs and must be of the same species per carrier.

You can carry up to two cats or dogs in one carrier but you cannot mix and match them. So you could not have one dog and one cat, for example.  

Must be plenty of room for your pet

  • The cat or dog must be completely inside the pet carrier and be able to stand up and move around the carrier with ease.

You’ll be putting the well-being of your pet at risk if the carrier is too small. Also, it’s really important to remember that you’re not going to be able to take your pet out of the carrier during the flight, so you need to make sure that your pet will be okay.

If you are carrying multiple cats or dogs in one carrier then you need to pay extra close attention to the amount of room that they will have. 

Pets must remain in the pet carrier

  • Pets must be secured in the pet carrier at all times while in the gate area, during boarding/deplaning, and they must remain in the carrier for the entire duration of the flight. Failure to follow this requirement may result in denial of transportation of the pet onboard Southwest Airlines.

Notice that your pet needs to be in the pet carrier even when you are in the gate area. So as you are getting ready for Southwest boarding, your pet cannot have free reign in the gate area, no matter how cute he or she is. 


Southwest pet restrictions

There are a number of specific restrictions for flying with your pets on Southwest that you should be aware of:

Pets must be attended

  • Southwest Airlines does not accept pets (cats or dogs) traveling without a customer.

You can’t simply send your pet on a flight without an accompanying customer. This makes a lot of sense because I’m pretty sure 99% of pets will not know how to make their way to boarding. 

Pets can’t travel with Unaccompanied Minors.

  • Pets are not permitted to travel with Unaccompanied Minors.

Unaccompanied Minors are young passengers that are flying without an adult. There are special restrictions for these younger passengers and you can read about them here. 

No exit rows

  • Customers traveling with a pet may not occupy an exit row or a seat with no forward under-seat stowage.

You cannot sit in an exit row seat with your pet or a seat with no under seat storage (this would be like a seat in the front row). The reason is for safety because they do not want pets interfering with access to exit areas. 

No checked pets

  • Southwest Airlines will only carry pets in the cabin; pets are not permitted as checked baggage.

Southwest does not offer you the option to check your pet as checked baggage. There are many more risks involved with flying your pet as checked baggage. For example, they could be subjected to excessive temperatures or a rough landing and you will not be there to comfort them. So I would think long and hard before I ever committed to transporting my pet like that. 

Limitation on pet carriers per flight

  • There will be no more than six (6) scheduled pet carriers per scheduled flight. However, from time to time, circumstances may allow for more (or fewer) than six (6) pet carriers per scheduled flight.

Southwest tries to limit the total number of pet carriers to six per flight. This sounds like somewhat of a soft rule though so at times they might compromise depending on the circumstances.  

Age limits

  • Cats and dogs must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel.

Cats and dogs are very vulnerable younger than eight weeks, so your pets need to be at least eight weeks old for the trip. And you probably want your pets to be fully vaccinated before potentially exposing them to something that could be very harmful to them. 

Good temperaments needed

  • The animals must be harmless, not disruptive, odorless, and require no attention during flight.

This will be a judgment call by the flight staff. But if your pet is showing signs that it might be problematic then you might not be able to transport them.

For example, if your dog is barking loudly at every passenger walking by that could be an issue or if your pet is in a filthy condition that would also be a problem.

Disruptive behavior can also be an issue and here is what the Southwest considers to be disruptive. 

  • Scratching, excessive whining or barking
  • Growling, biting, lunging
  • Urinating or defecating in the cabin or gate area

Must remain in the pet carrier

  • Cats and dogs must remain in the carrier (including head and tail) and the carrier must be stowed under the seat in front of the Customer (owner) for the entire duration of the flight.

This is one of the most important factors to consider. Your pet must remain in the carrier through the whole flight including its head/tail and the carrier must be stowed under the seat in front of you. 

This means that if you have an anxious pet you are going to have trouble consoling them through the flight since their head must remain in the pet carrier and the pet carrier must remain under the seat. I have seen pet owners gently stroke their pet while their pet remains in the carrier but that is about as much contact is permitted.

So you need to really think about how your pet is going to act before flying with them and perhaps try to do some exposure training so that they are used to the carrier as much as possible. It will also help if you can get your pet tired out before the flight by playing with them. 

And of course, treats can go really far.

No sharing

  • A pet may not share a carrier with a trained service animal or an emotional support animal.

This rule is pretty straightforward. The idea is that a service animal or emotional support animal is there to serve a function and the airlines don’t want your pet distracting or interfering with that animal.

Purchasing additional seats

  • The purchase of an additional seat may be required to accommodate the pet when traveling with a portable oxygen concentrator, trained service animal, or emotional support animal.

In some cases you may need to purchase an additional seat. 

Make sure your animal takes care of business

  • Southwest Airlines will not be responsible if a Customer misses a flight due to the need to take the cat or dog to an outside relief area. Flight departures will not be delayed or held in order for connecting Customers to take a pet to an animal relief area.

It is vital to remember to take your dog to an outside relief area before your flight. But when you do that keep in mind that the flight will take place with or without you so make sure you allocate plenty of time to make it to the relief area, for your pet to do their business, and for you to get back to boarding in time.

No in-flight first aid

  • If the pet becomes ill during the flight, oxygen or other first aid procedures will not be administered.

If your pet become sick during the flight then you will be responsible for trying to help it out since there are no procedures that will take place in flight. 

Emergency masks may not be available for your pet

  • In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask may not be available for the cat or dog.

You are always supposed to place an oxygen mask on yourself first before attending to others and this also applies for your pet. The thing is, there may not be an emergency mask for your pet so you may not be able to help them out if there is a sudden change in cabin pressure. 

No liability

  • Southwest Airlines assumes no liability for the health or wellbeing of carryon pets.

Southwest disclaims all liability for your pet when flying on their planes.

No pet remains

  • Southwest Airlines will not accept pet remains in the cabin of the aircraft.

This one is a little tough for some people but if you are transporting your pet remains they will need to be transported in checked baggage. 

Southwest only excepts credit cards and cash

  • Customers can pay with accepted credit cards and cash. Southwest LUV Vouchers, gift cards, and unused travel funds will not be accepted for payment of a Pet Fare.

Carry-ons

You should note that pet carriers are considered either a personal item or a carryon item.

This means that you could board the aircraft with either a pet carrier and a personal item or a pet carrier and a regular size carryon bag.

A Customer may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a regular size carryon bag, and a personal item. This might mean that you will need to check some of your baggage but the good news is that you can get two free checked bags for each Southwest flight. 


Pets and international flights

Pets are not allowed to travel in-cabin on Southwest Airlines international flights or any itinerary that includes an international flight.


Shipping pets in the Cargo hold

Unlike other airlines like United, Southwest does not allow pets to be shipped in the cargo hold. I personally don’t think I’d ever ship my pet in the cargo hold due to the risks but Southwest doesn’t give you that option so you don’t have to worry about it.


Emotional support animals

An emotional support animal provides support for an individual with a mental health-related disability and is not trained to perform a specific task(s) or work.

A Customer seeking to travel with an emotional support animal must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • The Customer must have the required documentation
  • The emotional support animal must be either a dog or a cat.
  • Each Customer may bring only one emotional support animal on the flight.
  • The emotional support animal must be in a carrier that can be stowed under the seat in front of the Customer or on a leash at all times while in the airport and onboard the aircraft.

If you want to travel with an emotional support animal, you must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee current documentation (not more than one year old on the date of travel) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer’s mental health-related disability.

The letter must state all four items below:

  • The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • The Passenger needs the emotional support dog or cat 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 or medical doctor, 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

An emotional support animal will be allowed to travel on flights to/from all domestic and international destinations, but many international destinations have country-specific regulations.

Read more about emotional support animals here


Trained service animals

Southwest Airlines allows trained dogs, cats, and miniature horses as service animals as long as the customer is able to provide credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal. Southwest Airlines does not accept unusual or exotic species of animals.

NOTE: A service animal vest, harness, ID card, or registration is not accepted as the sole indication an animal is a trained service animal.

Read more about trained service animals here


Final word

Flying with pets can be stressful for both humans and animals alike. But you can help alleviate a lot of that stress by researching into all of the different rules and policies so that you won’t be in violation of any of the restrictions and you can focus solely on getting your pet safely from point A to point B.

Cover photo by Tom Hart via Flickr.

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3 comments

  1. I am on a flight currently with four 70 lb dogs. I am an animal lover but I cannot I understand why these animals are not required to have a seat purchased for them when in fact a 2 year old must have their own seat. These 70 lb animals can not fit safely on ones lap or under a seat. I also feel these individuals should not receive priority boarding.

  2. I agree we have 3 dogs and a cat and I truly believe they should have to buy a seat … the charge is 95 under the seat and NO WAY can a 79 pound dog fit underneath!!

  3. Thanks so much for the helpful info. Southwest pretty accessibly advertises its pet travel fees, but this is the first time I’ve ever found info on how much they sell their carriers for.

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