What if an airline refuses to let your “emotional support hamster” fly with you? That might seem like nothing more than a jokey headline, or downright clickbait, but for 21-year-old college student Belen Aldecosea, it was a real-world dilemma, with life-and-death implications for her emotional-support animal.
And yes, the emotional-support animal in question was indeed a hamster, Pebbles, a dwarf hamster, small enough to fit in Aldecosea’s hand.
As reported by the Miami Herald and other sources, Aldecosea had twice confirmed with Spirit Airlines that Pebbles would be allowed to accompany her on the flight between Baltimore and her home in South Florida. Nevertheless, when she attempted to check in, Spirit insisted that Pebbles could not board with her.
Aldecosea, under pressure of a medical condition to get home and unsuccessful in her efforts to rent a car, claims that a Spirit representative at that point suggested that she either flush Pebbles down a toilet in the airport restroom or free the rodent outside the terminal.
Finally, tearfully, Aldecosea chose to flush Pebbles.
Spirit acknowledges that it mistakenly told Aldecosea that Pebbles would be accommodated on the flight, but denies recommending that she flush the hamster. To compensate her for the loss, the airline ultimately offered Aldecosea a voucher for a free flight, which she declined. She has a lawyer and is considering suing the airline “over the conflicting instructions that wound up pressuring her into making an anguished decision.”
While the extent of Spirit’s culpability can be debated, there’s no question that Aldecosea brought Pebbles to the airport on the airline’s explicit say-so, which in my mind gives Spirit substantial responsibility for finding a creative, non-fatal solution to the program.
Reader Reality Check
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.