By Andrea Romano
December 17, 2018

Separating with a pet is always hard. It’s even worse when you have to say goodbye to them unexpectedly.

Lanice Powless, a University of Colorado student originally from National City, California, was flying back home from Denver International Airport when she found herself having to part with her pet pink betta fish, Cassie.

According to Powless, even though she was able to bring Cassie through the TSA checkpoint, Southwest Airlines, the airline she was flying with, told her she had to choose between her fish companion or getting on her flight home on Wednesday, according to 10News.

“I've taken him everywhere with me,” said Powless to 10News. Powless originally got Cassie from Petco to ease stress and loneliness during her freshman year of college. “I have traveled with it. I had it in my container too. Maybe they just didn't make a big deal out of it at the time?”

According to the TSA website, fish are allowed through security after inspection by a TSA officer if they are carried “in water and a clear transparent container.” Unfortunately, TSA rules do not always line up with airline policies. Southwest’s animal policy, updated in August, explicitly says that passengers may only travel with pets if they are “vaccinated domestic cats and dogs in an appropriate pet carrier.”

Powless sadly had to scramble for other options. At first, Powless attempted to leave the fish at the Southwest counter for a friend to pick up later, but was not allowed by the airline staff. So she chose the next best option, in her eyes: asking travelers on other airlines if they would take Cassie with them. But once she found a new fish parent, the airport staff threw up another roadblock.

“They were not allowing us to converse at all because they were thinking we were going to do some secret exchange throughout the airport. Even after I was no longer in possession of the fish, they still continued to have security around us, and follow us through the airport and escorted onto our plane, as if we brought something bad into the airport,” Powless said to 10News.

She added that airport staff made her feel like a “criminal,” and that people have been treating her like she was overreacting to the situation.

“Yes, it's a fish. I know. But dang, it was my pet. And just because it wasn't a cat or dog, it wasn't as important?,” she said to 10News.

A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines did not comment on the situation other than to apologize for airport staff making Powless uncomfortable, but also to say staff followed protocol. The spokesperson added that the airline offered Powless a later flight in order to make arrangements for Cassie, but she refused, according to 10News.

Just a note to other pet parents: always check with your airline, rather than just the TSA, before bringing your animal companions with you.