Everything to Know About Flying With Pets on Southwest

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Lyn writes about Southwest Airlines on GotoTravelGal.com and has written a free downloadable guide, The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning the Southwest Companion Pass.”  I’ve asked her to share what you need to know if you plan on flying with a pet on the airline.

Lyn:   Do you travel with your pet or are you planning to soon?  Good news!  Southwest does allow pets on planes – with a few conditions.
Southwest Pet Policy
When You Don’t Want to Leave Your Furry Friend Behind, Here’s What You Need to Know When Flying Southwest

I’ll answer your questions about the cost, where they can fly, and how to arrange your animal’s travel.

Southwest’s Pet Policy

Link:   Southwest Pet Policy

Link:   Southwest Pet FAQs

It is possible to take your pet along for your Southwest flight.  But it’s not cheap.  And there are things to be aware of before bringing them on board.

Southwest only allows 6 pet carriers per flight, though they say “from time to time, circumstances may allow for more (or fewer) than 6 pet carriers.”  This limit does NOT include emotional support animals (more information about that is below).

Which Pets Are Allowed?

Southwest allows “small domesticated dogs and cats” at least 8 weeks old to fly in-cabin with a passenger.  “Small” means they must be able to fit in an approved pet carrier, which comfortably stows beneath your seat.  No additional vaccinations or documentation are required.

Southwest Pet Policy
Your Pet Must Fit in a Carrier Under Your Seat. Mazzy Is Too Big to Fly on Southwest!

Southwest does NOT allow pets to travel beneath the plane in the cargo hold as checked baggage, only in the cabin with their owners.  Pets are only allowed on domestic flights and only 1 pet carrier per passenger, though you are allowed to fit 2 animals of the same species in 1 carrier.

To bring 2 dogs, for example, you could fit both in 1 carrier if they are small enough.  Or each person in your party could fly with 1 pooch.

Fees for Flying With Pets

Southwest charges a $95 fee per way for each pet traveling with you., which you will pay at the ticket counter.  Only cash, credit cards and Southwest gift cards are accepted as payment.  And the fees are non-refundable.

Unfortunately, you can’t use your Southwest points to pay the fee.  But you could use your points to buy a Southwest gift card (10,000 points for a $100 gift card).  And then use the gift card for your payment.

Pet Carriers

Your dog or cat must be contained within an approved pet carrier that is no larger than 18.5 inches long x 8.5 inches high x 13.5 inches wide.  To ensure compliance, you can purchase a Southwest-branded pet carrier for $58.  Your pet must also be able to stand and move around comfortably within the carrier.

Southwest Pet Policy
You Can Purchase a Southwest Pet Carrier to Be Sure Your Carrier Meets the Airline’s Specifications

When going through security, you will be asked to take your pet out of the carrier and walk them through the screening device.  The carrier will then be X-rayed along with your other carry-on items.  The carrier is considered either your personal item or carry-on.  So keep that in mind when planning what you will bring with you on the plane.

Emotional Support Animals

Link:   Southwest’s Policy on Emotional Support Animals

Link:   When Pigs Fly: Will Airlines Ever Crack Down on Emotional Support Pets?

Emotional support animals are an entirely different ball of wax and an issue I researched thoroughly for my FoxNews.com article, “When Pigs Fly: Will Airlines Ever Crack Down on Emotional Support Pets?

Southwest Pet Policy
To Fly With an “Emotional Support Animal,” You’ll Need to Provide a Letter No More Than 1 Year Old From a Licensed Mental Health Professional Stating Your Condition Requires the Support of an Animal

Essentially, anyone who fills out a form at various websites and pays a fee can get a letter from a licensed “mental health professional” saying they need an animal to accompany them for emotional support.  While there are people who actually do benefit medically from having an animal accompany them, such as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, there are also plenty of people gaming the system.

Emotional support animals are allowed to be out of their carriers in owners’ laps (I once saw a dog on a tray table on a Southwest flight!) and do NOT have to pay a fee.  So having an “emotional support animal” is much more appealing than paying $95 per way for your pet to fly while keeping them in a carrier.

Unfortunately, there is not much the airlines can do about this issue, as they must follow the law requiring these animals to accompany their owners as outlined by Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 or risk being sued.  So for now, it looks as though we’re in for dogs barking on planes and even pigs, chimpanzees and turkeys in the aisle – or seat – next to you.

Southwest does allow emotional support animals to fly both domestically AND internationally, except for Jamaica.  And you must bring your letter (not more than a year old) written by a mental health professional certifying your condition and need for the animal.

What If I Am Allergic to an Animal?

If you are allergic to an animal on a flight, you’re pretty much out of luck.  The flight attendants will try to accommodate you by moving you further away from it and/or may offer rebook you on a different flight.

Pre-Flight Potty Breaks

Because Fluffy or Fido will not be allowed out of their carrier for any reason on the flight unless they are emotional support animals, you’ll need to make sure they have gone potty BEFORE the flight.

Southwest Pet Policy
Fido Can Take a Bathroom Break Before Boarding in Pet Relief Areas Like This One at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas

All airports have at least one “animal relief area” where you can take your pet to relieve themselves ahead of a flight.  The one in Las Vegas even has a red fire hydrant for aim. 😉 And is located IN the airport just outside the security check.

Your Southwest Pet Planning Checklist

  • Get an approved pet carrier
  • Reserve a spot for your pet in advance by calling 800-I-FLY-SWA (800-435-9792)
  • Bring your pet to the airport in the carrier
  • Pay the Pet Fare at the ticket counter
  • Fly with your pet!

Bottom Line

It’s easy to fly with a small dog or cat on Southwest.  But be ready to pay $95 each way.  Book ahead of time and ensure you have a compliant pet carrier before you arrive at the airport.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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