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Service animals and ESA dogs

cantonjc
New Arrival

I have traveled with my ESA dog for over 5 years. I travel several times per month. REcently, there seems to be some confusion with SouthWest employees and policy on boarding. My ESA is roughly 23 -24 lbs and due to her long legs does not fit under a seat. To travel with her and keep within regulations, I require to have a bulkhead seat which then she fits in front of me comfortably and does not take up any additional space for other passangers.

I arrive always at least 45- 1 hour prior to boarding and go by procedures, check in with documentation at the service desk and then go to the gate agent and request bulkhead due to limitations described above- here's where the policy is not known. 

I am told that if I need a special seat, then I would board before others. I am told that if several people need special seats, it is who was at the gate first (I understand that), which is why I arrive early. 

Other gate agents- tell me policy is all wheelchairs board first. Which then if they do not require a special seat, may sit in bulkhead along with their passanger carrying the belongings, taking up room for those who DO need a special seat. I had this happen on 2 occasions and it was very uncomfortable to ask the flight attendent to accomodate because the gate agent never relayed the info. 

I recently have filed a complaint to SW for another incident where I was told that SW makes NO special accomodations for ESA/Service Animals  and I boarded last in preboard, even though I was third to arrive. I am waiting to hear back from the incident.

TO avoid awkward situations, that futher elevate my anxiety- I am requesting someone clarify the boarding procedures. Is it first to arrive? Is it those requiring a special seat? Is it those who first arrive and require a special seat? Is it wheelchairs that do not require a seat but go first for convenience because they need a airport employee to push them? Is the gate agent responsible for communicating with the crew to reserve a special seat if they push the chairs first? 

Corporate states to me at the time of my complaint that "preboard" is first come first serve all equal and those needing a special seat would be first to board and it is also first come first serve. HOWEVER this procedure IS not followed at many airports. Look forward to your response SW.

5 REPLIES 5

Re: Service animals and ESA dogs

chgoflyer
Rising Star

Hey -- I unfortunately can't offer any answers... and this isn't actually an official Southwest support channel -- so you'll not get an answer from Southwest here either. Smiley Sad

 

My guess is that it should be first-come, first-served, but I suspect that some Ops agents will prioritize a human passenger (in a wheelchair) ahead of one that has a support animal, especially right now with the extra attention travel with support animals is receiving.

 

If you do receive any sort of answer from your written request, I'd recommend taking that with you when you fly.

 

Good luck.

Re: Service animals and ESA dogs

Lindsey Employee
Employee

Hi @cantonjc,

 

Moderator here - thanks for posting in the Southwest Community. As @chgoflyer said, this is a peer-to-peer discussion forum, so we are not able to handle Customer Service issues here, but I do want to offer some info that might be helpful. 

 

As I’m sure you can understand, each of our preboarding Passengers typically desires to be first onboard, putting our Employees in the unenviable position of trying to accommodate multiple Customers to the best of our ability. Frankly, we don’t have a “set” order in which we permit Customers with disabilities to preboard the aircraft. It is at our Operations Agent’s discretion to preboard the aircraft in the order that will be the safest, fastest, and most efficient. However, we must ensure that Customers who require a specific seat, and make us aware of that need prior to preboarding, are permitted to preboard before all other preboarding Customers. I do want to clarify that point that we are required to give priority access (upon request) to the bulkhead for Customers who are traveling with assistance animals or have a fused/immobilized leg. Spending a couple extra minutes to explain your situation to a Customer Service Agent before your next flight to talk about your situation and options will likely yield the results you are looking for. All that said, I hope that we'll have a future opportunity to serve you - we'd truly love to see you onboard again soon. 

 

Lindsey
Community Manager
The Southwest Airlines Community

Re: medical service animal

Kirboe
New Arrival

I’m booking a flight for my mom who travels with a small service animal.  I don’t see any option to add the animal on the web site.  Do I need to call reservations to add the animal? What documentation will she need on checking in? She has a badge from gov and the dog wears a vest. My friend said she may also need some documentation from her doctor.  Ive never heard of this. Is this true and if so does it need to be notarized? Thanks in advance. 

Re: medical service animal

chgoflyer
Rising Star

@Kirboe wrote:

I’m booking a flight for my mom who travels with a small service animal.  I don’t see any option to add the animal on the web site.  Do I need to call reservations to add the animal? What documentation will she need on checking in? She has a badge from gov and the dog wears a vest. My friend said she may also need some documentation from her doctor.  Ive never heard of this. Is this true and if so does it need to be notarized? Thanks in advance. 


 

The answers depend on whether she is traveling with a Trained Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal.

 

Trained Service Animal: A fully trained service animal is individually trained to perform a task(s) or work for a person with a physical and/or mental disability.

 

Emotional Support Animal: 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.

 

All of the answers can be found here: Customers with Disabilities.

Re: medical service animal

spacecoastbill
Active Member

@Kirboe wrote:

I’m booking a flight for my mom who travels with a small service animal.  I don’t see any option to add the animal on the web site.  Do I need to call reservations to add the animal? What documentation will she need on checking in? She has a badge from gov and the dog wears a vest. My friend said she may also need some documentation from her doctor.  Ive never heard of this. Is this true and if so does it need to be notarized? Thanks in advance. 


Depends if it is a genuine service animal or an emptional support animal.

 

A true service animal= no paperwork required.

 

An ESA = As listed on the website you now need a letter from a doctor.  If she does not have one, they are available starting for anout $20 online.