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Bad info from Spirit Air led me to flush pet hamster down airport toilet, student says

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

MIAMI -- Before Belen Aldecosea flew home from college to South Florida, she twice called Spirit Airlines to ensure she could bring along a special guest: Pebbles, her pet dwarf hamster. No problem, the airline told her.

But when Aldecosea arrived at the Baltimore airport, Spirit refused to allow the tiny animal on the flight.

With her only friends hours away at campus, Aldecosea was stuck. She says an airline representative suggested flushing Pebbles down an airport toilet, a step that Spirit denies. Panicked and needing to return home promptly to deal with a medical issue, Aldecosea unsuccessfully tried renting a car and agonized for hours before doing the unthinkable.

She flushed Pebbles.

"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."

Aldecosea, 21, of Miami Beach, is now considering filing a lawsuit against Spirit over the conflicting instructions that wound up pressuring her into making an anguished decision with a pet certified by her doctor as an emotional support animal. She shared her story with the Miami Herald weeks after the story of an emotional support peacock -- denied entrance to a United Airlines flight -- went viral on the Internet.

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This case is much different, said her South 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.

A spokesman for Spirit acknowledged the airline mistakenly told her that Pebbles was allowed. But he denied that a Spirit employee recommended the option of disposing of her pet in an airport restroom.

"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," spokesman Derek Dombrowski said.

After the Nov. 21 incident, Aldecosea said that she emailed to complain and that the airline, a few days later, offered her a voucher for a free flight to certain cities. She declined.

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