Everything to know about Southwest’s pet policy

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When you’re traveling and don’t want to leave your furry friend behind, Southwest is a great option for those who have small pets. The airline makes traveling with your pets a breeze by not requiring any additional documentation and won’t break the bank in extra fees. However, their policies do come with a few terms and conditions, so here’s everything you need to know to make sure your pet is Southwest ready for your next trip. 

Southwest pet policy summary

Southwest will allow small, vaccinated domestic cats and dogs to travel with you on your flight. At Southwest, your pet is only permitted to travel with you in-cabin, which means sending your pet on the flight as checked baggage or even taking them with you in a carry-on bag that goes in the overhead compartment of the plane is not permitted. If you’re looking for an airline that accommodates large pets as cargo, Southwest is not your place — but United, Alaska Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines are all better suited to fit your needs. 

Pets are all accommodated on a first-come, first-serve basis at Southwest and can be checked in at the airport ticket counter or in advance (when booking your ticket), with a capacity of six total pets per flight. Southwest does say on its website that certain circumstances will allow for more or less than six pets on some flights but doesn’t outline the specifics of those circumstances. 

Each customer is limited to one pet carrier on Southwest. However, up to two pets can go in each carrier as long as they each have enough room to get up and move around freely.

Southwest has their soft-sided pet carrier available for purchase at $58 (non-refundable) that measures 17” x 9.5” x 13.5”, but also allows travelers to bring their own carriers with a maximum size of 18.5” x  8.5” x 13.5”, which can be either hard or soft-sided. If you’re not sure if your pet carrier is allowed on Southwest, a good rule of thumb to follow is that it must always be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you on the flight. Be careful with this because you definitely don’t want your pet carrier to be too small for your pet either– they need to remain inside it the entire flight! 

Types of pets allowed on Southwest flights

Southwest only allows small, vaccinated domestic cats and dogs to travel on their domestic flights, excluding Hawaii. No pets of any kind are allowed on Southwest international flights, or flights with an international layover, except for service and emotional support animals. Your pet also must be at least eight weeks old to travel on Southwest.

The owner is responsible for the behavior of their small dogs and cats that do travel on Southwest. Southwest can deny boarding to your pet, even if they are within the size and weight restrictions, if they engage in disruptive behavior such as scratching, excessive barking, growling, biting, and urinating or defecating at the gate or on-board before take-off.

(Photo by dezy/Shutterstock)

Fees for flying with pets

Southwest charges a $95 pet fare each way (so, $190 for a round trip). You can pay the pet fee in advance when you book your ticket to ensure your pet has one of the six pet spots on the flight. If you do that, your purchase is refundable if your plans change.

If you cancel your ticket and your pet is no longer traveling, you’ll be able to get your pet fare refunded to you. If your flight is canceled for any reason by Southwest, you’ll have the option to refund your pet fare or have it transferred to another flight you rebooked. You can’t use your Southwest points to pay your pet fee, but compared to prices like JetBlue’s and Delta’s $125 each way for domestic flights, this is a pretty good deal. And you could always opt to use a card that offers an airline fee credit, like The Platinum Card® from American Express. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Southwest policies regarding service animals and emotional support animals

Trained service animals and emotional support animals can travel on all Southwest flights, both domestic and international, for no additional charge. Travelers with these kinds of animals will need to provide documentation for them to be allowed on the flight. This includes a written note from a medical or mental health professional outlining the need for the animal, health certificates for the pet, permits required for the place of travel, and an animal behavior form. Southwest also reserves the right to ask the customer about why they need the animal.

Your service or emotional support animal is not limited to just dogs and cats; Southwest allows dogs, cats, miniature horses and pretty much any other kind of animal. However, they do not accept “unusual or exotic” species of animals. If you are traveling with an animal larger than a child under the age of two, you must purchase an additional seat and place the pet carrier under the seat in front of the additional seat. Emotional support animals do not have to stay in the pet carrier at all times and can sit on your lap or tray table for your flight.

Keep in mind that Southwest does not count service and emotional support animals as pets, meaning they do not count toward the six animal maximum per flight. It also means you can bring both a service/emotional support animal and a pet on a Southwest flight.

Tips for flying with your pet on Southwest

Reference their on-site pet page

All of Southwest’s pet policies are located on this page on their site, updated regularly as they change. About a week or so before your flight, make sure you check this page to satisfy any lingering questions you may have or to de-stress about flying with your pet. Especially in the age of coronavirus, airlines are constantly changing their policies, so it’s always best to double check!

Check-in with your vet

Southwest requires all pets traveling with them to be vaccinated, so you’ll need to check-in with your vet to make sure your travel buddy has all their necessary vaccinations. Flying can put a lot of stress on your pet, especially if they’ve never flown before, so checking in with your vet is a good idea anyway, to make sure your furry friend is mentally and physically well enough to travel.

For example, short-snout dog breeds, like pugs and bulldogs, are not allowed on most flights due to their respiratory issues. Your veterinarian will know things like this and steer you in the right direction!

It’s a good idea to get your vet to check your pet out before flying. (Photo by 4 PM production/Shutterstock)

Give enough potty breaks before the flight

Because your pet will not be able to leave the pet carrier for the entire flight, it’s super important to let your pet use the bathroom in the airport and right before your flight. All airports have at least one animal relief area where you can take your pet, so make sure to visit there before your flight!

Manage your own stress

Flying with a pet can add stress to travel! To alleviate some of your stress on the flight, you can make almost all of your pet’s accommodations before you fly, so getting to your gate will be hassle-free. First, make sure you have an approved pet carrier and have scheduled your pet’s veterinarian appointment about a week before your flight. Next, you can reserve a spot for your pet in advance by calling 800-I-FLY-SWA (800-435-9792) and pay your pet fee in advance. On the day of your flight, travel through security scanners while holding your pet and be sure to give them plenty of bathroom breaks in the airport! 

Once your pet settles into their carrier and into the flight, try to relax! Check in on your pet in the carrier periodically and enjoy your flight. You’ll both be there before you know it.  


What type of pets are allowed on Southwest flights?

Small vaccinated domestic dogs and cats are allowed on Southwest. Any animal is allowed on a flight as a service animal or emotional support animal. 

How much is the Southwest pet fee?

$95 each way ($190 round-trip). Service animals and emotional support animals are no extra charge.

How many pets are allowed per flight/customer?

There are six pets allowed on each Southwest flight (not including service/emotional support animals). Each paying customer can bring one pet carrier, which can have up to two small pets inside. 

What’s the weight and age limit for my pet to fly?

Southwest requires all pets to be at least eight weeks old. They do not specify a specific weight limit but describe only “small” dogs and cats to fly. All animals traveling on Southwest must fit in a carrier no bigger than 18.5” x  8.5” x 13.5”. 

What documentation do I need to fly with my pet?

Southwest requires your pet to be updated on their vaccinations but does not require you to show any official documentation to fly with your pet. Service animals and emotional support animals require a written note from a medical or mental health professional detailing the need, health certificates for the pet, permits required for the place of travel, and an animal behavior form.

How many pet carriers are each customer allowed?

Each customer is allowed one pet carrier on Southwest, with up to two pets inside. 

Bottom line

Flying with a small dog or cat on Southwest is easy, convenient and requires no additional documentation, but be ready to pay $95 each way.  Booking your pet’s ticket ahead of time and ensuring you have a compliant pet carrier before you arrive at the airport will make your trip seamless. Travelling is always better when you have a furry companion, so overall, enjoy your trip!

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