Gerald Tautenhahn thought he had all his t's crossed and i's dotted with transportation officials when he booked a short trip from Los Angeles's LAX airport to Austin and back.
He was traveling with his pet opossum, Zatara, and JetBlue and claimed the Department of Transportation had cleared the animal to be carried on. He packed her up and took her onboard, making it to Texas without any problems.
When it was time for Tautenhahn to return home, however, he was removed from the plane by a JetBlue flight attendant who said Zatara wasn't allowed in the cabin.
Tautenhahn took his frustrations to social media. Using the hashtag #bringzatarahome, Tautenhahn documented the experience with the airline in an Instagram post.
"I already boarded on the plane sitting in my seat, and one of the crew members came up and said, Hey, can I speak with you outside?" Tautenhahn told the local news station. "They said, 'Either you can leave her here, or you can stay with her, but she can't fly.' The feeling was insane. It's, like, frustrating beyond belief. They let me come here with her, but now I can't return with her."
After hours of waiting, Tautenhahn said JetBlue representatives rescheduled his flight for two days later. He said he took all the necessary steps to clear Zatara, and when he returned to the airport, they wouldn't let him fly. He said no one relayed the message that he was traveling with an opossum, so he was denied again.
The other option he was given, which he said was unhelpful at best, was to secure his own rental car and drive back to California. All the while, staff members at both airports held and took pictures with Zatara. Tautenhahn ended up stuck in Austin for four days past his original departure.
Tautenhahn said he was traveling to Austin so that his then-ailing dad, who eventually died of cancer, could see Zatara one last time. Neither Tautenhahn nor his twin brother, Carl, have children, so he decided to bring Zatara for his father, who happily showed her picture to his nurses for days before her arrival and playfully referred to her as his granddaughter.
Feeling like he had no other choice, Tautenhahn ultimately decided to stop dealing with JetBlue and bought a ticket home with United Airlines. He and Zatara made it home with no problems on that flight.
JetBlue defended the steps taken to remove Tautenhahn and Zatara from the plane before takeoff in Austin. According to the airline's pet policy, JetBlue "gladly accepts small dogs and cats only in an approved pet carrier."
In a statement to The Washington Post, JetBlue added: "On the customer's return trip, our crew members in Austin witnessed the opossum come out of its carrier and saw that it was not a cat or dog. The crew members informed the customer that the opossum would not be able to travel on the flight and worked to assist the customer with his options."
"That is completely unfair," Tautenhahn stressed. "At no point did she come out after we went through. That's the most frustrating part about it," he says of the accusation, which he called "unreal."
After being kicked off the flight, he felt that JetBlue had made the whole incident his problem and left him to deal with it.
"It's like, [JetBlue] allowed me on the flight in the first place,'" he says. "All I'm trying to do is get back home."
Tautenhahn says he'd even arranged for a friend to look after Zatara if she had been denied travel on the first leg of the journey. According to TSA guidelines, there are no restrictions that prevent Zatara from flying.
In an update after touching down at LAX, Tautenhahn told followers they had made it back safely, and that Zatara appeared happy to be home.