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College student abandons pet fish after Southwest Airlines doesn't allow in carry-on bag

Student not allowed to bring pet fish on board
Credit: David Zalubowsk/AP
A University of Colorado student says Southwest wouldn't let her bring her pet fish onboard her flight from California to Denver Friday.

A Colorado college student learned the hard way that some pets aren’t welcome on planes.

Lanice Powless was traveling home to California through Denver International Airport last week for the holidays. She is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, where she lives in the dorms with her pink pet Betta fish “Cassie.”

Powless said a fish seemed like a more responsible choice for a pet in college, rather than a cat or dog. Before her purchase, she says she checked TSA to see if she could fly home with the fish.

TSA policy allows live fish in carry-on bags after inspection by a TSA officer.

“Typically I would just check in and then go through TSA and walked right on with it,” she said. “No one’s ever stopped me.”

Last week that changed.

Powless said she and a friend were checking their bags for a flight home when a Southwest employee informed her the fish couldn’t fly.

“At first I was like, oh, OK. Well, I’ve always flown with my fish with Southwest,” Powless said. “She was like, ‘Well, our policy is that you can’t have fish, only cats and dogs in crates.’”

Powless didn’t realize airlines may have separate rules from TSA. Southwest’s pet policy is stricter, allowing only small dogs and crates in crates stowed under the customer’s seat. No pets can travel in Southwest cargo bins.

Powless said she wasn’t allowed to leave her fish at the counter until a friend could pick it up. She said she wasn’t allowed to go through TSA to find someone else to care for it in the airport, either.

“I ended up turning around and giving it to a lady behind me,” she said, but then that got complicated, too.

“I crossed through and then TSA stops her, and said, we’re not allowing this fish to go through,” Powless said. The two got separated at the airport before they could exchange contact information.

“I don't know where my fish is at. I don't know if they allowed her to take it.”

Southwest Airlines offered this statement Monday:

“A Customer attempted to bring a pet fish onboard their flight from Denver to San Diego. Our Customer Service Agents informed the Customer about Southwest’s pets policy which does not allow for live fish to travel in the passenger cabin. Our Team offered to re-book the Customer for a later flight to allow them to make arrangements for their pet but the Customer refused that option. The Customer eventually traveled on their originally scheduled flight.”

Powless disputes the statement, saying she was never offered to re-book her flight. When asked for clarification, Southwest said, again, it made the offer but the customer declined.

Both the passenger and the airline stand by their individual statements.

“I would have gladly taken another flight. I was in no rush to get home, I’m on break,” Powless said. “If they offered me a later flight to drop off my fish, that would have been totally fine with me.”

There are a lot of things you can't take on a plane. Some of the best attempts make the TSA Instagram page.

Travelers can tweet questions to “@AskTSA” which are often answered with a joke attached. Or, they can visit TSA’s “What Can I Bring” list online.

View this post on Instagram

Pumpkin pie... it's an essential item for many a Thanksgiving feast. And if you are packing for your holiday flight, you might be debating how to handle canned items, such as pie filling and cranberry sauce. Fear not... we've got an answer. - Most canned food items either contain liquid (think green beans for that casserole), or they have a gel (looking at you, cranberry sauce) or creamy consistency (such as that pumpkin pie filling). That means you'll need to stuff them in your checked luggage. - So please don't put canned items in your carry-on bag. We don't want your goose to be cooked when you arrive sans ingredients! - And if you've got questions on other food items, reach out to our #AskTSA team on Twitter or Facebook. You can write them a message or send a photo. They're available 8am-10pm on weekdays, and 9am-7pm on weekends and holidays... even on Thanksgiving Day! - - - #travel #traveling #traveler #airport #traveltips #tsatraveltips

A post shared by TSA (@tsa) on

TSA also shares data and pictures about confiscated items on its blog, including the number of loaded firearms found every year. Denver made the Top 10 Airports list for firearm discoveries in 2017.

Powless knows her traveling companion might be unique.

“I know it sounds silly because it's a fish,” she said. “But it was still my pet; I’ve had it for almost a year now, so that just really made me mad.”

For the next traveler, Powless offers some advice:

“My advice would be, not only to look up the rules for TSA, but look up the rules for your specific airline.”

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