Now that emotional support animals are at the center of a public discussion balancing the comfort of passengers with the safety of others, more stories are emerging. But does the latest hamster story pass the smell test?
Belen Aldecosea, a 21-year-old college student, discovered a potentially cancerous growth on her neck. While it later turned out to be benign, she purchased a hamster from a local Petco in the Philadelphia area to bring her comfort.
Pebbles, her pet dwarf hamster, lived in a small cage in her dorm. Even thought the growth on her neck was not cancerous, it was painful and she arranged to have it removed near her childhood home in the Ft. Lauderdale area.
She booked on Spirit after calling twice and confirming that she could bring Pebbles along. She was assured traveling with her hamster would be no problem. But on the day of her flight, she was told at the airport that her hamster was not allowed onboard. Aldecosea claims one Spirit employee advised her to either let it go outside or flush it down the toilet. Not wanting to freeze the hamster to death, she flushed it down an airport toilet.
Recalling the incident to the Miami Herald, Aledecosea stated–
She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet. I was emotional. I was crying and I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.
Spirit Condemns Passengers, but Offered Compensation
She wrote to Spirit a few days after the flight and complained. Spirit offered her a token voucher, which she refused. Now she is contemplating a lawsuit against the budget carrier.
Spirit denies one of its employees instructed Aledecosea to kill Pebbles and condemns Aledecosea for her actions–
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.
That’s a slap in the face, and now we have a he-said, she-said game.
Does This Story Pass the Smell Test?
I believe Aldecosea. First, I lived in Philadelphia for three years, flew out of PHL on a weekly basis, and can envision several employees telling her dismissively to “take care” of the problem. Second, I believe that Spirit’s initial offer of compensation suggests guilt. It’s quite different than putting all the blame on Aldecosea, as Spirit does now.
Finally, Aldecosea was placed in an impossible position. This occurred during the peak Thanksgiving travel period and there were no other viable options. Trains were full, one-way car rental prices were exorbitant, and bus options not practical. And it’s not like most 21-year-old college students have the money to just walk over the American Airlines counter and buy a walk-up ticket to Florida.
It’s sad that she could not find a friend or someone to watch her hamster, but again, it was a busy holiday period and her roots and most friendships were home in Florida.
I’ll be following this story with some interest…hamsters are cheap so damages will be limited in that category, but what about emotional distress? Should airlines be held accountable for providing conflicting information?
(H/T: One Mile at a Time)