Man Removed From Flight, Stuck In Austin For Four Days, Due To Unusual Pet

A California man was stranded in Austin for four days after being kicked off a flight. He was trying to get home with his possum. And he did everything right.

  • He wanted to make sure he’d be good to fly on JetBlue with a possum

  • He “called the Department of Transportation, cleared it with them”

  • Then he called JetBlue and says he was told it would be fine

  • And indeed he had no problems flying JetBlue from Long Beach to Austin

Credit: Cody Pope via Wikimedia Commons

Gerald Tautenhahn flew with his opossum Zatara from Long Beach to Austin for Thanksgiving. After the trip he boarded his flight home, was seated and ready to go and a flight attendant asked him off of the plane. He was told he couldn’t fly with the pet.

He was rebooked onto another flight, but JetBlue was waiting for him to check to see whether he had the animal again or not. JetBlue refused to take him on any aircraft with the opossum. He bought a new ticket on United and flew home to LAX.

According to the airline,

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 travel with pets page talks about accepting small dogs and cats in-cabin, but doesn’t say other animals are excluded. You can click through the page to their FAQ which does say other animals aren’t accepted.

The airline’s service animals page says they’ll accept dogs, cats, and miniature horses as emptional support animals – though I don’t believe that’s consistent with Department of Transportation guidance which says airlines can’t categorically refuse to transport many kinds of animals but can “continue to deny transport to snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders” however an opossum is not a rodent.

For an airline to refuse to transport an animal it needs to be “too large or too heavy, poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or would cause a significant disruption in cabin service.”

JetBlue followed its policies, but those seem unclear and Mr. Tautenhahn says he was told in advance it would be alright – and indeed it was for his outbound trip. Had he declared his pet an emotional support animal JetBlue might have refused him transport, but that appears to be contrary to current final guidance from the Department of Transportation.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Showing how useless it is calling the airline and asking about something. Obviously what the representative on the phone says doesn’t matter an iota.

  2. With the rampant abuse of so-called emotional support animals (which unfortunately only hurts the few people who legitimately need a service animal), it is understandable that an airline would want to have a strict policy in place. JetBlue’s failure is not that they didn’t allow the rodent on the plane, but rather that they don’t have a clear policy posted on their webpage to give guidance to people.

  3. @Neal Z, except that, of course, an opossum IS NOT A RODENT. It’s a marsupial. But I’ll bet the Jet Blue team in Austin were similarly confused since opossums are the only native marsupial in North America. Qantas wouldn’t have made this error. LOL

  4. Opossums are not rodents. And they can make good pets. There is one that lives behind my house and it’s very curious of me, though I do not feed it or touch it since it is wild. And because I live in a rural area they aren’t gross like urban/suburban opposums can be.

  5. @Jon LOL playing possum

    Count me as all-in as anti-ESAs. BUT, It’s just wrong to apply different policies to two legs of a trip. He should have been told at the get-go; now approval is tacit. There must be some sort of goose/gander rule here.

  6. The issue for me is: If you call and specifically ask “Hey – Is this ok?” and you are told yes, and then proceed to double check with all important authorities. You shouldn’t have any issues. This isn’t the emotional support animal debate. This is a guy who was lied to, and got fucked over by the airline.

  7. “Lets not forget Dude that keeping wildlife, um… an amphibious rodent, for… um, ya know domestic… within the city… that ain’t legal either.”

    – W. Sobchak

  8. “Lets not forget Dude that keeping wildlife, um… an amphibious rodent, for… um, ya know domestic… within the city… that ain’t legal either.”

    W. Sobchak

  9. JetBlue probably saved that possum’s life. As Jed Clampett will attest, Granny makes a fine Thanksgiving possum pie and “possum innards are just as good the second day.”

  10. Thank You Jet Blue for taking the correct stand on this. I don’t care if the opossum self identified as a dog or cat, it’s a wild animal and belongs in the wild. Completely understandable why they didn’t board the animal in Austin . . . most of us know what a opossum is. Not sure that is true in Long Beach.
    BTW, they really don’t make good house pets. Let Mother Nature keep her creatures.

  11. @mallthus
    But Qantas still wouldn’t allow a possum in their cabin, though.

    From their “Travelling with pets” page:
    Only Service Dogs can be carried into the passenger cabin of the aircraft.

  12. Why did he need to remove it from its carrier? Jet Blue said in its statement that crew observed the animal outside of its carrier, and I presume that this was during the flight.

    I suspect that this passenger wouldn’t agree to keep the animal in its carrier during the entire flight.

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