When traveling with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, it is incredibly important to understand all restrictions and regulations for a smooth, stress-free, flight. Your pet is there to support you, so taking all the necessary steps to prepare them is especially important. When your pet becomes the source of your stress while traveling, their job as an ESA becomes redundant! In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the Spirit Airline ESA Policy, and how to prepare for your trip.
*Please note that as of January 11th, 2021, Spirit Airlines states, “emotional support animals (ESAN) will be required to travel as pets per updated Department of Transportation requirements. In order to travel as a pet, the animal must meet and follow the [pet] requirements.”
Spirit ESA Policy – Pet Fees
If your furry friend is an emotional support animal or pet, a fee will apply when flying on Spirit Airlines. Psychiatric service animals and service animals are exempt from these fees.
Pets are only allowed inside the aircraft cabin, and the total weight of the carrier and the animal cannot exceed 40 lbs. You can have no more than two animals inside of a carrier, and they must be able to stand upright and move around comfortably.
Only small dogs, cats, household birds, and household rabbits are allowed to travel as pets on Spirit Airlines flights.
If your pet meets all these requirements, each pet carrier has a fee of $110 each way.
There is a maximum of four pet containers allowed on any given aircraft, so it is highly recommended to call ahead.
You can contact the Reservations Center at (801) 401-2222 to add a pet to your reservation. No pet is permitted inside the cargo hold (where the checked baggage is kept) and must be checked in a check-in counter in airport.
If your dog is an emotional support animal, the restrictions are slightly different than for pets.
If your life could be improved by an ESA, see if you qualify by taking our simple 5-minute prescreening test now.
A List of Animals That are Permitted on Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines ESA Policy allows for some flexibility on the species of emotional support animal allowed on board.
Dogs and cats are permitted emotional support animals. Spirit Airlines ESA policy also allows additional “unusual animals” onboard flights as ESAs, with some restrictions.
When it comes to “unusual animals” the Spirit Airlines ESA policy dictates that they have the right to refuse entry to any animal that is:
- Too large to be accommodated easily
- Poses to be a threat to the flight attendants or passengers
- Causes disruption of cabin service, or
- Is prohibited at the final location of the flight.
In addition to these guidelines, Spirit Airlines ESA Policy does not allow as emotional support animals or in general:
- Other reptiles
For service animals, they do not have any specific canine breed restrictions, provided that the dog fits on the floor or in the lap without blocking the aisle or “flowing over” onto another seat.
ACAA and ESAs: What You Need to Know
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled.
However, this now only applies to service animals and not emotional support animals.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced at the end of 2020 emotional support animals would no longer be protected as assistance animals on flights – like service animals. This new travel regulation was created to fight off the misrepresentation of ESAs, but did the DOT take it too far?
Prairie Conlon, LPC, NCC, and the world’s leading expert on emotional support animals explains why this is “textbook discrimination”…
“We understand that there have been incidents that have discredited emotional support animals and the service they provide, but those situations could be prevented by increased regulation. This proposed rule is a step in the right direction, [but] the aim may be a little off.
Emotional support animals as part of a treatment plan have been utilized for decades [and] are not anything new. They have just recently gained attention in the last several years due to several things: the increase in ESAs as our society looks for alternative non-invasive therapies such as yoga and meditation, the charade of bizarre and exotic animals people are claiming are ESAs, and the lack of regulations on online companies popping up and selling rubber-stamped ESA letters.
Eliminating emotional support animals altogether is a quick, cheap fix that disregards those who really need and use the treatment appropriately.”
How to Alert Spirit Airlines You Will Be Bringing Your ESA/Pet/SA
Spirit Airline ESA Policy encourages passengers traveling with ESAs on their flights to check in prior to the day of departure, but it’s not required.
Know Spirit Airlines’ Pet Carrier Requirements!
Spirit Airlines is required to maintain specific pet carrier dimensions by the Department of Transportation (DOT). This is to protect the safety of all passengers on the airline, as the pet carrier cannot block any of the cabin’s passageways.
Many pet carriers are sold specifically to be compliant with most airlines carry-on luggage restrictions. These restrictions will vary based on the aircraft cabin size and airline.
What’s Acceptable for Airline Pet Carriers
Pet carriers should fit comfortably under the seat in front of you, and be under 40 lbs. The maximum carrier size is 18″ x 14″ x 9″ (L x W x H). Your pet should be able to stand comfortably, and turn around, while in the container.
What’s Restricted for Airline Pet Carriers
Any carrier that does not fit under the seat in front of you will not be allowed on board. Containers that are larger than 18″ x 14″ x 9″ (L x W x H) will not fit beneath the seat. If your pet cannot stand and turn comfortably inside the carrier, they will not be admitted into the cabin.
While traveling with a carrier, you will not be able to sit in the first or the exit rows. Be aware that emotional support animals are not required to stay inside a pet carrier, and can be held on the lap or sit in front of your seat as long as they do not block the aisle.
“Where Does My Furry Friend Go Once I’m on the Plane?”
According to Spirit Airline ESA Policy, your furry friend must follow the rules for pets and be kept inside their carrier underneath the seat in front of you, provided that their carrier is of an approved size.
If you are traveling with a service animal, they are permitted to sit on your lap as long as your seat is not equipped with inflatable seatbelts and may also sit on the floor in front of your feet, as long as they do not block the aisle. Your animal should never be blocking the aisle or sitting directly on a seat, at any time.
Your animal may only be kept in the cabin, as no animals are allowed to be checked into the cargo hold.
Bring and Fill Out The Required Documents/Forms
After 1/11/2021, be sure to know that Spirit ESA policy looks the same as Spirit Pet Policy! So the documents you once needed, will no longer be required.
However, when traveling with a service animal, there are required documents that you must provide to the airline depending on the destination. Please contact Spirit Airlines for more information.
It is highly recommended to collect this documentation well in advance of your flight and ensure all documents are no older than a year at the time of departure.
ESA Letter: Optional
Once mandatory, your ESA letter is not required if you wish to fly with Spirit.
Before 2021, Spirit Airlines ESA policy required documentation of your support animal to be provided on the letterhead of a licensed medical health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. The letter must state that you have a disability recognized under the DSM IV related to mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
It had also stated that you need the ESA for air travel or at the destination and that you are under the medical health professional’s care. The medical health professional must also provide their mental health professional’s license type, date, and the state it was issued in.
Veterinary Health Certificate
A veterinary health certificate or rabies vaccination is mandatory if traveling to Puerto Rico or USVI.
Spirit Airlines ESA policy does not require a veterinary health form, or health certificate for service animals or emotional support animals traveling on board their aircraft if it’s not to the destinations above. It is still recommended to carry this paperwork with you, in case this documentation is required at your destination for any reason.
Copy of Current Shot Record: Optional
A copy of current shots/vaccine record is voluntary.
Spirit Airlines ESA policy does not require a copy of current shot records for service animals traveling onboard their aircraft.
It is still recommended to carry this paperwork with you in addition to your ESA letter, in case this documentation is required at your destination for any reason. Most states require certain vaccinations for all pets, so while traveling you should always have proof of all necessary vaccinations.
Signed Testament to the Animal’s Behavior: Optional
A signed testament to the animal’s behavior is voluntary.
Spirit Airline ESA Policy does not require a signed testament to the animal’s behavior but does require that the animal be well behaved and under your control at all times.
Your dog should not engage in any disruptive behavior while onboard the aircraft, this includes barking, growling, running, or jumping, when unprovoked. If your dog is disruptive they will not be accepted by the airline as a service animal.
Prepare Your ESA For Flight!
Because your dog must be under control and well behaved at all times, it is important to train your dog properly prior to traveling with them. Your dog should be properly socialized, and trained on all their basic behaviors, prior to being exposed to travel.
Any dog that is misbehaving will cause you more distress, and thus defeat the purpose of traveling with them as an emotional support animal.
It is also important to consider your pet’s safety when flying. Some breeds are more prone to breathing difficulty and should not be kept in pet carriers for long periods of time. This precaution should be taken with all snub-nosed dogs or short-nosed dog breeds, such as French bulldogs and pugs.
Teach Your Dog The Proper Behavior When in Public and on the Airplane
Your dog should be taught to behave calmly and quietly while traveling and should be socialized to all types of people to avoid disturbances. It is incredibly important to begin socializing your dog early, as they have a small window of opportunity to develop these social skills.
Your dog should be extremely comfortable around people, in small spaces, around loud noises, and being exposed to new environments. To properly train your pet you should expose them to all of these situations while giving them a food reinforcer.
They’re There For Your Comfort, Not Disturbance
By training your dog prior to travel, you avoid the discomfort and embarrassment of having a misbehaving dog or even being ejected from your flight.
If your dog becomes a hazard to anyone on the flight, the airline has the right to remove them. If this were to occur, your emotional support dog is providing you more stress than support! Train your dog prior to traveling with them to avoid this mistake.
Are You Traveling Internationally? Check Out Location-Specific Resources to See If Your ESA is Allowed
When traveling internationally with an emotional support animal, it is important to check the guidelines of your specific destination to determine their pet policies.
Some countries may have quarantines, and some may have species or breed restrictions. You can contact Spirit Airlines directly, or a travel agent, for assistance on Spirit Airlines ESA policy. You can also take a look at the following resources for traveling with pets.
USDA – APHIS Pet Travel
The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service provides a guide for pet owners traveling with their animals.
US Department of State – Pets and International Travel
The US Department of State provides an all-around guide on international pet travel, with a section on service animals and specific airlines.
CDC – International Travel With Your Pet
The Center for Disease control also provides a useful guide for international travel with pets.
Do you have questions about Spirit Airlines ESA policy? Let us know in the comments below.