The Industry

Student Blames Airline After She Flushes Her Emotional Support Hamster Down Airport Toilet

Spirit Airlines acknowledges that it misinformed the passenger, but denies telling her to harm the hamster.
Spirit Airlines acknowledges that it misinformed the passenger, but denies telling her to harm the hamster.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

In yet another incident involving the attempted transport of an emotional support animal on a commercial flight, a 21-year-old college student flushed Pebbles, her dwarf hamster, down an airport toilet after Spirit Airlines refused to allow her to bring the animal aboard.

The student, named Belen Aldecosea, told the Miami Herald that she had called Spirit twice prior to her Nov. 21 flight to inquire about bringing her emotional support hamster onto the plane, and that both representatives said it would be permissible. Yet, upon arriving at the Baltimore airport to board her flight home to South Florida, Spirit employees would not let her bring the rodent onto the plane. Aldecosea alleges that one of the employees recommended that she either set it free outside or flush it down the toilet.

The college student points to several extenuating circumstances that led her to make the decision. She had to fly home in short order to address a health issue, and she was hours away from campus where her friends were. She told the Herald she tried to rent a car but none were available. After fretting for hours on her predicament, Aldecosea decided that the most humane course of action would be the euthanize Pebbles via airport toilet. She described the scene to the Herald:

“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 acknowledged to the Miami Herald and the Washington Post that one of its employees improperly informed Aldecosea over the phone that she could bring the hamster onboard, but denies that the airport employee advised her to flush Pebbles. A Spirit spokesperson told the Post, “It is incredibly disheartening to hear this guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”

The airline offered Aldecosea a free flight voucher after she complained about the incident over email, but she declined. She said she is considering filing a lawsuit against Spirit for allegedly giving her conflicting information.

The conflict between airlines and emotional support animal owners has been brewing over the last few years, as the practice of traveling with pets becomes more popular. Delta reports that it flew 250,000 service and support animals last year, up 150 percent since 2015. The Air Carrier Access Act requires planes to accommodate animals that aid passengers with disabilities or provide emotional support. However, airlines are allowed to impose certain regulations, such as requiring documentation on the animal and the passenger’s condition. Several airlines also prohibit certain pets from boarding planes, such as rodents, hedgehogs, and animals with tusks.

Last month, United Airlines made headlines when it did not allow a woman to bring her emotional support peacock onto a flight due to weight and size guidelines.

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Aaron Mak

Aaron Mak writes about technology at Slate.