When Belen Aldecosea was flying home to South Florida for a holiday break, she was hoping to bring her pet hamster, Pebbles, along with her. Unfortunately, she says that information she received from Spirit Airlines lead her to flush her pet down an airport toilet in order to get home.
Spirit Airlines, meanwhile, denies that any agent would suggest this option to Aldecosea, or any guest.
Aldecosea was traveling home after a semester at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the Miami Herald reported. Before booking her Spirit flight from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Fort Lauderdale, she says she confirmed with a Spirit agent, twice, that she was able to bring Pebbles along.
When Aldecosea checked in at the Baltimore airport, she had no problems with carrying Pebbles — who was not only a pet, according to Aldecosea, but also an emotional support animal, verified by a letter from her doctor.
However, when she proceeded to the security checkpoint, she says she was stopped by a Spirit agent who told her she couldn’t bring her hamster, even though it had been previously confirmed as permissible. A Spirit Airlines spokesperson confirmed to Travel + Leisure that there was a miscommunication from the agents who spoke to Aldecosea, saying, “our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines.”
Aldecosea took a later flight to deal with the issue, but she was told that Pebbles couldn’t be taken into cargo and she didn’t have any friends or family in Baltimore who could take her at a moment’s notice. There were also, according to Aldecosea, no rental cars or buses, and she spent hours trying to solve the problem.
She claims, at this point, an airline agent suggested setting Pebbles free outside, or to flush her down the toilet. “I didn’t have any other options,” Aldecosea told the Miami Herald.
“[Pebbles] was scared. I was scared. 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.”
Spirit Airlines, however, denies any agent would suggest this option to any passenger. “After researching this incident, we can say confidently that at no point did any of our agents suggest this Guest (or any other for that matter) should flush or otherwise injure an animal,” a Spirit Airlines spokesperson told T+L.
Emotional support animals have been in the news lately — including a headline-making peacock — and airlines have been cracking down as more passengers claim pets as medically necessary. (Emotional support animals, however, are different from service animals and do not have specific training.)
In the end, Aldecosea said she felt she was doing the right thing by ending her hamster’s life quickly rather than let her run around in the cold or let her get hit by a vehicle. She said she is now considering filing a lawsuit against Spirit Airlines over the alleged misinformation that she felt pressured her into making her decision, according to the Miami Herald.