February 8th, 2018 – A Florida college student experienced a special kind of travel hell during a recent trip on Spirit Airlines. Belen Aldecosea attempted to board her flight before the Thanksgiving holiday only to be told she would not be permitted to board with her pet dwarf hamster, Pebbles, which was certified as an emotional support animal. Aldecosea insisted that she confirmed on two separate occasions that flying with the animal would not be a problem but when she arrived at her gate a Spirit employee refused to honor her boarding pass.
The 21-year-old Miami Beach native told the Miami Herald that a Spirit Airlines representative suggested that she either release the animal outside the airport or flush it down the toilet. With no way to return to her campus and unable to make arrangements for someone to take custody of the rodent after taking a later flight, Aldecosea reportedly felt she had no choice but to dispose of the creature as suggested.
“She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet… I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”
A statement released by the airline confirms that Aldecosea was inadvertently told that flying with her pet hamster would be allowed but is adamant that the idea to flush it down the toilet did not come from a company employee. A spokesperson for the airline said:
“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. It is incredibly disheartening to hear this guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”
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.
— Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines) February 8, 2018
Ridiculous! Flushing a living being down a toilet is not only cruel but also illegal, & both the person who killed this animal & Spirit Airlines—if an employee did, in fact, advise the woman to drown the hamster—should be charged. This must have been a horrific, terrifying death.
— PETA (@peta) February 9, 2018
After agonizing over the incident, Aldecosea emailed a complaint and was offered a travel voucher as compensation, which she declined. Airlines are free to decide what type of animals, if any, are permitted to travel on their airplanes although most prohibit the transport of small rodents for health and safety reasons. The young woman relied on her emotional support hamster during a recent cancer scare and was traveling to undergo a related medical procedure.
This is the latest incident of an airline denying a pet owner permission to fly with their pet. In January, United Airlines grounded a woman when she attempted to fly with her emotional support peacock. Aldecosea is reportedly considering legal action.