College student Belen Aldecosea was flying home from college in late November when her trip took a turn for the worse. The South Florida native says that she was informed that her pet hamster, Pebbles, wouldn’t be allowed on the flight — even after Spirit Airlines told her twice over the phone that she would be able to bring the animal.
Aldecosea was stuck at the Baltimore airport and out of options. She claims that a Spirit representative suggested that she get rid of Pebbles by flushing the rodent down a toilet in the airport. Aldecosea recalled the scene to the Miami Herald, saying “She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet. I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.” But, eventually, she flushed the animal down the toilet.
She says that there was nothing she could do. Her friends were far away and she couldn’t rent a car.
Now the 21 year old is considering suing Spirit, saying that they gave her different instructions and that her doctor had certified Pebbles as an “emotional support animal.” But a spokesperson for Spirit said that Aldecosea’s recollection of the events isn’t the truth, though they did admit that they gave Aldecosea conflicting instructions.
In a statement, the airline said, “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.” And they’ve had to repeat that line on Twitter where backlash has ensued.
They’ve even blamed Pebbles’ death on Aldecosea.
The college student says that she complained and that Spirit offered her a free flight voucher but that she turned it down. The TSA is pretty vague about what kinds of animals can board planes, but according to a 2014 press release, they’ll let about anything go as long as the animal goes through the screening process. That means that it’s up to the individual airlines to decide what flies and what, in Pebbles’ case, dies.