Southwest Airways Simply Made a Lengthy-Awaited Change, and It Appears to be like Just like the Finish of an Period
This is a story about Southwest Airlines catching up with their competitors.
Brief Background: Just a few years ago, one of the major challenges facing Southwest and other airlines was the proliferation of passengers who insisted on bringing animals on board with emotional support.
The airlines had no choice in this matter. Federal regulations allowed people to be escorted by service animals on airplanes, but did not define “service animal”.
The result? Passengers brought on board “comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders, and more” as emotional support animalsan industry report.
This in turn resulted in an “increase” in incidents of “barking, biting, nibbling, growling and fighting” in passenger cabins, according to the same report.
Last week, however, Southwest Airlines took the giant step of banning most of the so-called emotional support animals from their cabins.
“As of March 1, 2021,” Southwest said in a statement, “the airline will only accept trained service dogs for travel and will no longer transport animals with emotional support,” added:
With this revision, Southwest Airlines will only allow service dogs who have been individually trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a qualified person with a disability to travel with the customer.
The types of disabilities include physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities. Only dogs are accepted (including those for the mental health service). No other species will be accepted as a trained service animal.
Of course, the Southwest is not alone with this new policy. As I wrote earlier, American, Delta and United Airlines, along with smaller airlines, changed their rules earlier this month.
Back then, Southwest told me there were no changes to be announced. At least one report suggested that some travelers were hoping that the Southwest, “known for its independent spirit, may not join the ban”. Unfortunately they have now caught up with the others.
This is all in response to the U.S. government’s revision of its own regulations in December that introduced a definition for service animals, allows airlines to require proof that they are actually trained, and allows airlines to use animals to be classified as pets with emotional support.
Of course, some people rightly need real service animals. You are still allowed.
However, this rule change was intended to make life easier for flight attendants who had to handle the animals – including situations where passengers and flight attendants were bitten or otherwise injured by them. (Examples:Here, here and Here.)
Now I know that the whole thing looks like five crises ago, so to speak. It’s a hell of a good time being in the aviation industry now.
Just last week we had so many other developments: For example, the CDC demanded that all passengers (and people on other public transport) wear masks, which should hopefully relieve the shoulders of flight attendants.
Add to this the huge losses most airlines have made recently (Southwest had its first annual loss in nearly 50 years), the debate over the lockdown of the middle seats and, as Southwest President Tom Nealon put it, the prospect of a “Goat rodeo “if the government required airlines to test passengers for Covid before domestic flights.
All of this makes it a little better at reaching the end of (apparently) the animal story of emotional support.
One more point: I am not aware that this issue has ever had any real impact on the bottom line for airlines. Passengers who wanted to fly might have complained, but it wasn’t like they could go to another airline that had stricter rules. They all had to follow federal law.
But here the airlines could work together, ultimately for the benefit of the staff who didn’t want to oversee this problem under all their other duties. It took years to resolve, and if you are a leader in an industry this lesson is well worth taking to heart.
When it comes to advocating change to make your employees’ lives easier, stick with it, show them you are on their side, and be the type of leader who tries to solve problems where you can .
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.