If you and your pet are ready for a real adventure this year, it may seem like a great idea to jump on an airplane and take off for parts unknown. While airlines are becoming more accommodating to pets, understanding the policies for your chosen airline can make for smoother travel.
The Spirit Airlines regulations regarding animals on their planes vary depending on the role the animal provides. Service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs), psychiatric support animals (PSAs), and general pets are all allowed on Spirit Airlines flights but with varying requirements depending on the animal’s classification.
Before we dive into the specifics of Spirit Airlines’ animal policies, let’s go over the difference between service animals and emotional support animals.
What’s the Difference Between a Service Animal, an ESA, and a Pet?
The primary difference between service animals and ESAs/PSAs is that service animals are trained to perform specific services or task(s) for their handler. A service animal is specially trained to perform complex tasks even under duress. These animals are highly intelligent and remain calm and capable of performing their duty at all times.
ESAs and PSAs, on the other hand, are not necessarily trained for any specific purpose and are most often used as a source of comfort. They perform their duty by merely existing and providing their owners with a sense of comfort and security.
An easy way to understand the difference between a service animal and a comfort animal is that service animals are responsible for performing duties for their owner that they would otherwise find difficult if not impossible to do on their own while ESAs act more like safety blankets. For instance, a service animal that works for a vision-impaired individual would alert their handler if they were close to walking off of a sidewalk.
Due to this difference, service animals are generally given more leeway regarding access to public spaces and private establishments. Pets differ from all of the above in that they provide no specific utility and are not legally or medically recognized as an essential companion for their owners. Thus, the regulations regarding pet policies are much laxer and left up to the discretion of the business owners.
Animals That are NOT Allowed on Spirit Airlines Flights
Spirit Airlines keeps a list of specific animals that they do not allow on their flights under any circumstances. This list currently includes the following animals:
- Other reptiles
- Rodents such as hamsters, mice, rats, squirrels, etc.
- Sugar gliders
In addition to this list, Spirit Airlines states that “other unusual animals” may or may not be allowed to travel on their flights. They determine whether these other animals can fly based on factors such as the animal’s size, whether it poses a threat to the health or safety of others, whether it is likely to cause disruptions of cabin service, and whether the animal in question is disallowed from entering a foreign country.
If you aren’t sure whether your animal will be allowed on board or not, make sure you check first and get some confirmation in writing. You will want to carry signed documents with you throughout your travels to ensure the trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Spirit Airlines Pet Policy
Spirit Airlines allows domesticated dogs, cats, small domestic rabbits, and small household birds on their domestic flights. However, no animals are allowed on international flights, and flights to the US Virgin Islands as well as Puerto Rico are off limits to birds and rabbits. The Spirit Airlines pet policy only permits six pet carriers on board each flight and only allows a maximum of two pets per container and one container per passenger.
Spirit Airlines charges a $110 fee per pet container on each flight (that means you will get charged $220 for round trip pet carrying). The pet carriers must meet size requirements that are the same for carry-on baggage as they must be kept in the cabin.
Since Spirit is concerned about the safety of animals traveling with them, they only allow animals to fly in the cabin of the plane stowed under the seat in front of you. Spirit charges $110 per carrier and limits the number of carriers to one per passenger. If you have two small animals of the same species that get along well, then you can put them both in one carrier and pay only one price.
As long as they can stand and move around comfortably inside their carrier, animals can fly in the aircraft cabin, under the seat in front of the person carrying them on, in a carrier that does not exceed 18” X 14” X 9” in size and 40 pounds in weight. Pets cannot be checked in as baggage due to the unsafe temperature and conditions of the cargo area of the plane. Furthermore, pets cannot be placed in overhead compartments for similar reasons.
Unless you have a service animal, your pet must remain in the carrier throughout the flight. ESAs will be treated like normal pets, and unfortunately are not covered by this policy.
Spirit Airlines Emotional Support Animals Policy
Spirit Airlines does welcome psychiatric support animals on their flights with the correct documentation. You will need to have current documentation for your pet from a medical professional and an ID tag is recommended as well. The documentation required by Spirit Airlines for PSAs are:
- Mental Health Professional Form – subject to verification
- Veterinary Health Form – subject to verification
- Passenger Acknowledgment Form
These forms are available for download at the bottom of Spirit Airline’s policy page. These forms must be completed and submitted at least 48 hours prior to the flight. They will be verified by their team of Disability Coordinators who will check to make sure your documents are up to snuff.
Other documents may be required if the flight is an international flight. The additional documents required will vary depending on the destination. More information regarding destination-specific documentation can be obtained through your travel agent or from Spirit Airlines’ guest services.
However, this only applies to PSAs. ESAs will be treated like normal pets, and unfortunately are not covered by this policy.
Spirit Airlines Service Animals Policy
Federal regulations require that Spirit Airlines (along with all other airlines operating within the United States) allow service animals to accompany their owners on flights. Despite this fact, it is still recommended that you have all documentation available with you and that you fill out forms in advance to avoid issues throughout your travels.
Spirit Airlines states specifically that a “service animal vest, harness, ID card, or registration is not accepted as the sole indication an animal is a trained service animal.” Basically, they claim the right to deny animals passage if the animal doesn’t behave as they believe a service animal should.
Spirit Airlines provides additional requirements and guidelines that state the animal must remain with you at all times. Furthermore, they say that if the animal shows any sign that it hasn’t been properly trained—or any sign of aggression or disruption—that the animal will not be allowed to travel on the flight.
Aside from these regulations, Spirit Airlines also has additional seating requirements.
Spirit Airlines Animal Seating Requirements
Those with animals are allowed to sit wherever they like with the exception of emergency exit rows. If your animal is kept in a carrier, you are not allowed to sit in the first row as it is required that the animal carrier is placed under the seat in front of you.
Service animals are permitted to sit on your lap, provided that the animal is “no larger than a lap child”. However, if you keep the animal on your lap, you can not sit in a seat with an inflatable seatbelt as it would be unsafe for the animal. Trained service animals can also be placed on the aircraft floor, but no part of them can be placed on an aircraft seat at any time.
Animals placed at your feet cannot block aisles or other areas that need to remain clear in cases of an emergency evacuation. Furthermore, an animal placed on the floor cannot get in the way of another passenger’s foot room unless there was explicit consent indicating that the other passenger would allow it.
Finally, animals that require more space than a single seat provides can be accommodated by the purchase of additional seats or upgrading to their “Big Front Seats”. If you don’t opt to purchase more space for the animal, Spirit Airlines will attempt to accommodate you and your animal but offers no guarantee of space for the animal.
Tips for Traveling With Animals
Due to the fact that many people have recently tried to take advantage of service animal regulations, many companies have become more wary and stringent in their requirements for proof. Make sure you check ahead before booking any flights or passage on other transports. Obtaining written confirmation and signed documents will aid you greatly in smoothing over the process of traveling with an animal.
Print out all forms and documentation and keep them with you throughout your travels to ensure you are always prepared to answer any questions or demands that might be placed on you. Remember that the law is on your side when you have gone through all the appropriate channels, but also keep in mind that humans are fallible and may not fully understand the situation at hand.
It’s important to remain calm and civil, even in the face of ignorance or outright hostility. There have been a lot of horror stories regarding pets and travel lately, so make sure you keep your wits about you and avoid altercations. The most important thing is to ensure you and your animal are safe at all times. Never allow your pet to be placed in a closed compartment or cargo area and make sure you are fully aware of any laws, regulations, or policies surrounding the transportation of your animal in both the area you are traveling from as well as the area you are traveling to.
It is a great idea to contact US Service Animals before you travel to get help preparing the necessary documentation. After all, you don’t want to spend time in the airport trying to meet regulations rather than getting ready for fun and relaxation with your favorite animal friend. Use common sense and plan far in advance to avoid potential issues.