A Miami college student is considering legal action against Spirit Airlines after she says an employee wouldn’t let her on a flight until she flushed her emotional support hamster down an airport toilet.
Belen Aldecosea said the incident occurred when she was at the Baltimore–Washington International Airport on Nov. 21, 2017, getting ready to fly home from school with Pebbles, a dwarf hamster who serves as her “emotional comfort animal.”
Aldecosea obtained Pebbles during a cancer scare that happened her freshman year at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
She said the hamster was a doctor-certified companion, but more important, a friend at a time when she needed one.
“She was so loving. It was like she knew I needed somebody,” the 21-year-old told the Miami Herald on Thursday.
Aldecosea said she contacted Spirit Airlines twice before her flight to ensure her hamster could join her on the plane, and a reservation representative told her there would be no problem.
But she heard a different story when she and Pebbles arrived at the airport, and airline employees wouldn’t let the hamster board the plane.
Aldecosea was stuck since she had no one nearby who could take custody of Pebbles. She said a rep for Spirit suggested she flush the hamster down an airport toilet.
When Aldecosea was unable to rent a car or arrange other more hamster-friendly transportation, she did the unthinkable.
“It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet,” Aldecosea said. “I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”
Aldecosea said she is considering filing a lawsuit against Spirit Airlines for giving her conflicting instructions that she said pressured her into the decision.
A Spirit Airlines representative told the Independent that employees incorrectly told Aldecosea that Pebbles could fly with her.
However, the rep insists that no employee ever recommended she flush her hamster down the toilet.
“Our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the Guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines,” the spokesperson told the paper. “Rodents of any kind are not allowed on board for health and safety reasons.”
“We did offer the Guest a voucher for the inconvenience, but we never heard back from her,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Transport Security Administration told the Metro newspaper it has no problems with hamsters going through security.
“Hamsters are welcome in our checkpoint,” the agency said in a statement. “Their container would typically go through the X-ray while the owner would hold the hamster as the passenger walks through the metal detector so the creature is not subjected to radiation.”
Emotional support animals are companion animals that some medical professionals determine may benefit individuals with a range of physical, psychiatric or mental disabilities. Typically airlines allow common pets, like dogs and cats, to board planes.
Aldecosea’s attorney, Adam Goodman, said his client’s situation was different than the one involving a woman who tried to bring her emotional support peacock onto a United Airlines flight about a week ago.
“This wasn’t a giant peacock that could pose a danger to other passengers. This was a tiny cute harmless hamster that could fit in the palm of her hand,” Goodman told the Miami Herald.