Student flushed hamster down toilet after airline ban
The airline denies any of its employees suggested she flush her hamster down a toilet.
A woman in Florida has claimed she was instructed to flush her pet hamster down an airport toilet by an airline that refused to let her onboard with the animal.
Student Belen Aldecosea kept Pebbles the hamster as an emotional support rodent and was initially told that she could take the animal on board.
She told The Miami Herald newspaper that, ahead of a flight home to South Florida, she twice called Spirit Airlines to ensure she could bring Pebbles on board.
Despite those assurances, when the 21-year-old reached at the Baltimore airport, she was told Pebbles would not be allowed to fly.
She claims an airline employee then suggested she flush the hamster down the toilet after running out of other options.
Ms Aldecosea needed to return home promptly to deal with a medical issue. She was unable to rent a car and said she had no friends or family in town to pick up Pebbles.
After agonising over what she should do, she took Pebble into the toilet stall.
"She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet," Ms Aldecosea said.
"I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall."
A spokesman for Spirit acknowledged the airline had mistakenly told Ms Aldecosea that Pebbles was allowed onboard.
"Our reservation representative, unfortunately, did misinform the guest that a hamster was permitted to fly as an emotional support animal on Spirit Airlines," spokesman spokesman Derek wrote in an email.
But he denied that a Spirit employee recommended flushing her pet in an airport bathroom.
"To be clear, at no point did any of our agents suggest this guest [or any other for that matter] should flush or otherwise injure an animal," Mr Dombrowski said.
But Ms Aldecosea said she is considering suing Spirit over the conflicting instructions that pressured her into making the decision.
She shared her tale with the newspaper after the story of an emotional support peacock - denied entrance to a United Airlines flight - went viral on the internet.
This case is different, said her Florida attorney, Adam Goodman. "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," he said.
Ms Aldecosea bought Pebbles after her first semester at a school in Pennsylvania, when she developed a painful growth in her neck, leading to a cancer scare. She said she had her doctor's letter certifying Pebbles.
Airlines have struggled to establish policies for comfort animals.
The US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) says it has no problem with carry-on hamsters.
"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," according to TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.
But it is up to airlines whether they allow the animals on board and most major carriers, including American, Delta and United, say no, citing concerns safety and health concerns.