Flickr / Peter Houghton
- A woman claims that a Spirit Airlines employee encouraged her to flush her pet hamster down an airport toilet.
- The airline said that it mistakenly told the woman the hamster would be allowed on the flight, but it denied that any employees recommended flushing or harming the animal.
- Spirit rebooked the woman on a flight nine hours after her original flight to give her "time to find other accommodations for the animal."
- The woman is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit against the airline.
The debate over what counts as an emotional-support animal, and which animals should be allowed on commercial flights, has become a near-crisis for airlines.
Now, Spirit Airlines is in trouble after a woman alleged that an airline employee encouraged her to flush her pet hamster, Pebbles, down an airport toilet, the Miami Herald first reported. The woman, Belen Aldecosea, claims the hamster was a certified emotional-support animal.
The incident stemmed from a miscommunication between Aldecosea and Spirit. Aldecosea said she called the airline twice to make sure her hamster would be allowed on her November 21 flight home from Baltimore to South Florida. Each time, an airline representative told her the hamster could fly with her, a Spirit spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider.
But Spirit doesn't let rodents on its flights, which a Spirit employee told Aldecosea before she went through security at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Aldecosea says she was left in a difficult position. She didn't have any friends or family close enough to pick up the hamster, wasn't able to rent a car, and needed to return home to attend to a medical issue. Eventually, a Spirit employee allegedly suggested that Aldecosea release the hamster outside or flush it down an airport toilet.
Aldecosea chose the latter.
"She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet," Aldecosea told the Herald. "I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall."
"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 said in a statement to Business Insider. "When the Guest appeared with the hamster at the airport, our agents offered and the Guest accepted an opportunity to take a later flight, so she had time to find other accommodations for the animal. Our records indicate she was scheduled to take the 10:39 am flight on Nov. 21, but ended up taking the 7:42 pm flight that day."
The controversy follows a recent incident where a woman unsuccessfully tried to bring a peacock on a United Airlines flight after claiming it was an emotional-support animal. United and Delta Air Lines have introduced new policies that require passengers to provide additional assurances that emotional-support animals are medically certified and able to behave on an airplane.
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