Effective October 15, Spirit’s new policy requires passengers to a) give the airline a minimum of 48 hours notice that they intend to travel with a support animal, and b) provide the necessary documentation.
Prior to its policy change, a Spirit passenger was only required to produce a letter from a doctor or mental health professional explaining why the traveler had to have a support animal with them on their flight.
In Spirit’s new policy, fliers will need to submit three documents:
A statement from a mental health professional that the passenger’s disability or disorder is recognized in the most recent editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Those disorders include ADHD, autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others;
A form signed off by a veterinarian validating the animal’s well-being; and
A passenger-liability form.
Mean or meaningful?
To some, it may appear that airlines are being callous when it comes to support animals, but the general feeling is that some fliers have abused the privilege and the only way of curtailing the abuse is to get a tighter grip on what is and what is not justifiably a “service” animal.
Abuses of the policy have run rampant, including stories of people going on Amazon and buying vests, leashes, collars, and dog tags designating that a dog is a “Service Dog,” an “Emotional Support Dog,” or a “Seizure Alert Dog.”
"We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers," said Steve Goldberg, Southwest Airlines’ Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality. "However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience."
The airlines have support in social media circles, too. A Facebook group called Service Dog Fraud- Know the Rules, Stop the Fraud was launched in 2017 to “offer contacts for ADA, politicians and others that can help us in our journey to STOP-Service Dog Fraud.”
Know someone this policy may affect?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to stay on top of the situation to the best of its ability and has gone on record saying that “if you believe your rights under the Air Carrier Access Act are being or have been violated, ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is the airline’s expert on disability accommodation issues. Airlines are required to make one available to you, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating.”
The DOT has created a helpful video for individuals with disabilities who are traveling with a service animal to, from, or within the United States.