This past September, after a series of unfortunate occurrences, Southwest Airlines decided to place a ban on snakes and all other non-standard animals on their flights. This means that only dogs, cats, mini-horses, and similarly categorized animals will be permitted to accompany their human passengers as emotional support animals.

Typically, animals that fall under the category of emotional support animals are of a wide range of species. They can be of the normal household pet variety, i.e. dog, cat, etc., but they can also include animals such as peacocks, hedgehogs, pigs, ducks, ferrets, and so on. Emotional support animals are allowed to go with their owners to most of their destinations including restaurants, theme parks, and even join them on airplane flights. When flying, the animals are permitted to travel in the cabin with other passengers versus in the cargo area of the plane with other animals not classified as being there for emotional support. While these animals may provide certain levels of support for their owners, they have, in some instances, created issues for Southwest, hence the need for the ban.

Sometimes these animals create problems for the airlines in that they cause trouble for fellow passengers who may have a fear or phobia of that type of animal. For someone who would attempt to board a flight with an emotional support tarantula, for instance, an issue that could arise could be that the passenger in the next seat or row might be deathly afraid of tarantulas and thus be unable to remain in the same space as the animal and their passenger. Other animals might have reactions to being in enclosed spaces, like the cabins of aircraft, which could result in them behaving erratically. This could ultimately upset the crew of the airline or the other passengers, or even become unsafe. To avoid these complications, Southwest has classified all animals outside the dog, cat, and miniature pony variety as “exotic” in order to minimize the potential issues that could occur in-flight, thereby hoping to reduce flight disruptions due to emotional support animals.

In an interview, Steve Goldberg, Southwest Airline’s Senior Vice President of Hospitality and Operations, stated that the company’s goal was to ensure that the staff and patrons of the airline had a safe and comfortable time while flying with Southwest and that they hoped to accomplish that by putting the new clear and easy-to-understand guidelines in place. The new rules have created a lot of buzz, especially on social media. It appears that not many people were aware of all the animals that could be classed as emotional support animals. Some have taken to posting photos to Twitter of more well-known emotional support animals, such as Daniel, the red-shoe wearing Emotional Support Duck. Another photo that has been making the Twitter rounds is one of a peacock that was recently denied permission to board as an emotional support animal. One user posted a comment quizzically questioning fellow users if they were the only one who wasn’t aware that peacocks were considered emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals are a necessity for those who need them, but safety and comfort for all passengers is also important. All things considered, Southwest has made a decision that should hopefully keep the cabins tamer without ruffling too many feathers.