Southwest Airlines Pet Policy Guide (Fees, Carriers, & Size Limits) [2019]

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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. This 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.  

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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  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 (not an affiliate of Southwest Airlines Co.). These 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.

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.

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

  • Southwest Airlines allows only one pet carrier per ticketed Passenger.
  • The carrier may contain two (2) cats or dogs and must be of the same species per carrier.
  • The cat or dog must be completely inside the pet carrier and be able to stand up and move around the carrier with ease.
  • 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.

The two bolded bullet points are very important. 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.


Southwest pet restrictions

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

  • Southwest Airlines does not accept pets (cats or dogs) traveling without a Customer.
  • Pets are not permitted to travel with Unaccompanied Minors.
  • Customers traveling with a pet may not occupy an exit row or a seat with no forward under-seat stowage.
  • Southwest Airlines will only carry pets in the cabin; pets are not permitted as checked baggage.
  • 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.
  • Cats and dogs must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel.
  • The animals must be harmless, not disruptive, odorless, and require no attention during flight.
  • 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.
  • A pet may not share a carrier with a trained service animal or an emotional support animal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If the pet becomes ill during the flight, oxygen or other first aid procedures will not be administered.
  • In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask may not be available for the cat or dog.
  • Southwest Airlines assumes no liability for the health or wellbeing of carryon pets.
  • Southwest Airlines will not accept pet remains in the cabin of the aircraft.
  • 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. 


Disruptive behavior

If you’re thinking about flying with your pet, make sure that your pet has the right temperament.

Southwest won’t allow your dog or cat to board the plane if it suspects that your pet is prone to disruptive behavior. Examples of disruptive behavior include (but are not limited to):

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

You also want to think about if your pet is subject to experiencing a lot of stress when traveling. As stated, you’re not allowed to remove your pet from the carrier during the flight so you’re not going to be allowed to comfort your pet as you might otherwise prefer to do.


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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