AUSTIN, Texas - A California man wound up stranded in Austin for four days after being kicked off a JetBlue flight because of his unusual pet in a story that showcases some potential pitfalls when traveling with a wild animal.
Gerald Tautenhahn and his opossum Zatara flew to Austin to visit his mother for Thanksgiving, and because of all the attention his "awesome possum" gets, he says he was skeptical about flying with her.
"We did all of our homework about a month in advance," Tautenhahn said. "I called the Department of Transportation, cleared it with them. Cleared it with JetBlue, they said it was fine."
Initially, it had seemed like it was. Tautenhahn said he and Zatara boarded a JetBlue flight in California without incident, made it to Austin and had a great time...until the trip home.
"Already boarded on the plane sitting on the seat and one of the crew members came up and said hey can I speak with you outside?" Tautenhahn said. "They said hey, either you can leave her here or you can stay with her but she can't fly. The feeling was insane, it was frustrating beyond belief because they let me come here with her but now I can't return with her."
JetBlue released a statement when asked about this story, saying:
"JetBlue gladly accepts small dogs and cats only in an approved pet carrier. On the customer's return trip, our crewmembers in Austin witnessed the opossum come out of its carrier and saw that it was not a cat or dog. The crewmembers informed the customer that the opossum would not be able to travel on the flight and worked to assist the customer with his options. "
JetBlue's "Traveling with Pets" page on their website also notes that dogs and cats may travel in FAA-approved carriers, but saying nothing about other animals.
After the initial incident, Tautenhahn thought he might have better luck on his makeup flight.
"They had already flagged my name or whatever 'check and see if he's got an opossum with him'," he said. "I was like, guys, do you have any, like, help, any solutions other than 'go away' and they didn't."
Frustrated, he bought a ticket on a United Airlines flight, hoping to get home.
After a few tense moments on the taxiway, Tautenhahn took off for California with his pet possum and an expensive lesson about the inconsistency of airline pet policies.
"I'm out four days of work now," he said. "I've got deadlines to meet and I had to push them all back."
Representatives with TSA and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport confirmed airlines are allowed to craft their own pet policies and that possums are not banned from air travel at the federal, state or local level.