Belen Aldecosea, 21, is filing a lawsuit against the airline, claiming it gave her conflicting instructions. She came forward with her story to the Miami Herald after the story of an emotional support peacock being denied a United Airlines flight.
Aldecosea said she was originally told she could take her tiny hamster with her on a Nov. 21 flight from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Fort Lauderdale. She said she called Spirit twice, and was told it was fine to take the hamster with her.
But when she arrived at the gate, she was told the hamster was not allowed to come on the plane. An airline representative told her to flush Pebbles down a toilet, she claims. Her friends were hours away at campus, so she could not ask them to pick Pebbles up.
Aldeosea panicked. She could not miss the flight because she had a medical issue and needed to get home. She thought about renting a car, but declined.
Then, she decided to flush Pebbles down a toilet.
"She 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 confirmed that a reservation representative "did misinform the guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines." However, Spirit denies that a rep suggested she flush Pebbles down a toilet.
Aldecosea's attorney, Adam Goodman, said her story is not like the emotional support peacock.
"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 said.
While Spirit Airlines has a problem with hamsters, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration told the Herald they do not have a problem letting them go through checkpoints.
"Hamsters are welcome in our checkpoint. 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," TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz told the Herald.
The airlines decide their own policies for emotional support animals. Most of them, including American, Delta and United, to no allow rodents out of safety and health concerns. Spirit's customer support page on animals notes that, while they do allow emotional support animals on board with proper documentation, they do not accept rodents.
Aldecosea said Pebbles helped her after a cancer scare. She needed to get home for a medical appointment, and could not take a bus to get home on time and there were no rental cars available. She decided it would be better to flush Pebbles down a toilet than let her run free and get hit by a car, she told the Herald.
Photo Credit: Instagram / @Welove.Hamsters