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Student Says Spirit Airlines Told Her To Flush Her Emotional Support Hamster

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Apr. 20 2020, Updated 2:29 p.m. ET

Last month, United Airlines made headlines after denying one woman's request to bring her emotional support peacock on a flight leaving Newark Liberty International Airport.  

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In January, Delta airlines announced that they'd be toughening their rules when it comes to emotional support animals. Delta says that since 2016, there has been an 84% increase in animal incidents on Delta planes, ranging from urinating to biting.  

From March 1, Delta will require that all those flying with an emotional support animal submit a veterinarian health form and immunization record at least two days before departure. A doctor’s note, signed veterinarian health form and proof of animal training will be required at the boarding gate, and certain exotic animals will no longer be allowed in the cabin of Delta planes.  

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United and a number of other airlines are following suit in revising their rules. 

A dwarf hamster named Pebbles may be the latest victim of this crackdown. Pebbles’s owner, student Belen Aldecosea, was set to fly from Baltimore to Florida back in November, and says she was assured by a Spirit Airlines representative that she could bring Pebbles on the plane as an emotional support animal. 

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When Aldecosea showed up for the flight she says she was checked in without an issue. Pebbles was in a small cage that fit regulations for carry-on luggage. 

But as she walked toward the security checkpoint, Aldecosea claims that a second Spirit employee chased her down, saying rodents weren't allowed on flights and that she could not put the hamster in the cargo hold either. 

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Aldecosea accepted a flight later that day to try and figure out what to do with Pebbles. But without any friends in the area to pick the animal up, Aldecosea told the Miami Herald that an airline representative suggested she either set Pebbles free outdoors or flush her down the toilet. 

Aldecosea says she spent hours trying to find another way home, including trying to rent a car, but that none were available over the holiday period. Aldecosea says that out of desperation, she flushed Pebbles down the toilet. 

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“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.” 

A Spirit spokesman confirmed that an employee incorrectly told Aldecosea that she could bring her hamster on the flight, but denied that anyone at the airport had told the student to flush the hamster down the toilet. 

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“Our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the Guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines."
"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 the Guest took that later flight with no further incident.”  
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“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. It is incredibly disheartening to hear this Guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.” 

The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration said that it has no problem with carry-on hamsters, and that it's up to airlines to decide whether they're allowed on their planes.

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“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.” 

Most major carriers like American, Delta and United don’t allow hamster on board as they're classed as rodents, which raises concerns about safety and health. 

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Aldecosea told the Herald that although the incident took place in November, the aforementioned Peacock incident has encouraged her to come forward. 

Aldecosea says that after emailing Spirit, the airline offered a voucher for a free flight to selected cities. She declined and has hired an attorney and is considering filing a lawsuit. 

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South Florida attorney Adam Goodman said this case was different from the peacock situation. 

“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." 
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Unsurprisingly, people were pretty shocked by the allegations. 

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What do you think of this incident?

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