Beginning Oct. 15, travelers will have to give Spirit at least 48 hours notice of their intention to travel with an emotional support animal and provide more documentation than the airline requires now. The carrier’s move follows similar measures by Delta, American Airlines, United and Southwest to tighten rules on animals permitted to travel in the cabin.
Under its previous policy, Spirit required only a recent letter from a medical doctor or licensed mental-health professional stating why the traveler needed to have an animal while traveling. Once the change goes into effect, travelers will have to present three forms of documentation: a statement from the mental health professional, a veterinary form attesting to the animal’s health and a passenger-liability form.
The liability form requires passengers to affirm that their animal has been trained to behave properly around other people and accept responsibility for any damage the animal causes. It also advises passengers that they must keep the animal under control at all times and can be removed or prevented from boarding a plane if the animal acts up. The new guidelines also warn that failing to provide the airline with at least 48 hours of notice could mean missing the flight.
Spirit’s announcement — which was flagged by USA Today — comes amid a backlash against “comfort animals” that has been building among flight attendants, other passengers and people with disabilities who must rely on service animals. Service animals differ from comfort animals in that the former have been highly trained, along with their handlers, to perform necessary tasks for the person with a disability. Flight attendants have petitioned the federal government to set new regulations on what animals may fly on commercial flights.