`WE don't have any family plan to include hamsters,'' the laughing airline reservations voice said. Would you believe this happened? My neighbor would. Because she heard it all. But she hadn't phoned the airline to take part in late-in-the-day jests. The car that she had planned to drive from Phoenix to the San Francisco Bay Area had just quit - who knew why. Her daughter was due at a Bay Area university the day after tomorrow for freshmen pre-registration. And new freshman clothes, frilly bedding, Peanuts calendars, some Country Day School memorabililia, and a hamster named Dancer would now have to be transported to that campus by plane. Almost right away.
``If ...'' the voice said, straightening its tie, ``if the - ah - hamster cage will fit under the seat, the animal can be taken in the cabin and travel right with you. One animal to a plane.''
``Fine,'' my neighbor said, ``good ....''
``But you will need a ticket for it - for him. Let's see. Phoenix to San Francisco is ... ''
``We want to go to Oakland.''
``Well, on this flight you can go nonstop right into San Francisco and then take the helicopter service over to Oakland. Now that extra ticket for ah, him, will be $25. And a carry-on cage'' (he sounded as though he were reading from a book), ``which is 17 by 12 by 71/2 inches would cost you $12.''
``For a hamster? He only cost $2.95, wheel-cage and all, new.''
``Twenty-five dollars. Under the seat.''
So my neighbor went to the ticket counter - a day early, just to be sure - and picked up Dancer's ticket and cage.
At flight time the next day, a check-in attendant smiled and asked, ``What's that?''
``A hamster,'' the prospective student said, taking a firm stance, according to my neighbor. Going away to college can be trying.
``It can't go in the luggage compartment that way,'' he said to my neighbor. Nobody talks to new freshmen.
``I know,'' my neighbor said. ``Dancer goes with us. Inside the plane. Under the seat. Here's his ticket. One way, Phoenix-San Francisco, $25.''
The man had to leave the check-in counter for a minute.
AT the San Francisco airport, first thing is to find the helipad - just as my neighbor was trying to, carrying coats, shoulder bags, ski boots in a rack, and Dancer. And when they all finally found it (the three of them), the heli-check-in man also asked, ``What's that?''
``That's Dancer. A hamster with a ticket to Oakland.''
``Oh, no,'' the man said. ``His ticket ends at San Francisco.''
Trouble was, my neighbor said, it was not the ticket itself. Or any additional price. It was because no small animals ride in these helicopters - maybe because of high-frequency noises that helicopters make and which disturb hamsters and other animals with sensitive hearing. Or maybe it was just lack of space. At any rate, Dancer couldn't fly helio.
So, my neighbor's daughter went on to Oakland by the connecting flight - alone. Dancer and my neighbor went by bus and by taxi across the Bay Bridge. And they all finally met at Newcomer Hall on the campus and went inside.
That's when they saw the sign on the office bulletin board, a big notice to freshmen: NO PETS. My neighbor said at that moment she wondered if maybe hamsters could fly home, standby.