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AirTran Crew Instructs Girls to Throw Their Tiny Turtle in the Trash

Written by PETA | June 24, 2010
artdrauglis / CC by 2.0

Security screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport waved all three passengers through with their pet turtle in a carrying case. Gate officials welcomed them on their flight to Milwaukee. But as the plane pulled away from the gate and then turned back around, AirTran staff told the three young Helm sisters that their beloved turtle pal—a 2-inch baby red-eared slider named after Avatar princess Neytiri—was not allowed to fly in the cabin and that they had to dump her or get off the flight, literally.

Apparently the crew members even refused to watch the tiny animal for a few minutes to allow the girls’ father time to dash back to the airport to pick her up. Instead, a staff member allegedly instructed the crying sisters to toss their tiny turtle into a trash can. The animal was initially presumed dead, but we have since learned that she narrowly escaped being crushed in a trash compactor after an airport employee took it upon herself to pluck the animal out of the trash and take her home. The Helm sisters and Neytiri are being reunited in Milwaukee today.

PETA wants to make sure that this never happens again. We have contacted AirTran CEO Robert Fornaro to ensure that the incident is investigated and that appropriate disciplinary action is taken. Please keep this horrific incident in mind the next time you choose an airline!

Written by Karin Bennett

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  • Hey I like animals says:

    I’m sorry people before animals.

  • Destiny says:

    Why is everyone blaming AirTran? The passengers were responsible for mentioning they had a small live pet travelling with them so that the customer service agents at the ticket counter could have told them the correct procedure. And the turtle made it through security TSA at the airport when they should have caught the live animal also. So don’t fly Airtran…..its your choice. This is a great airline.

  • Asumara says:

    Cal Did you just call animals dumb?Wehumans are a type of animal. That’s a lot of self hate.

  • Cal says:

    All turtles are subject to caring a host of diseases. None of the airlines allow anything but small dogs catssmall birds none of the parrot family and a few will allow rabbits all for a few. So why don’t we all just abide by the rules?? If the turtle were diseased and everyone on the plan got sick what then?? I bet all the stories would be different. After all human life and wellness is more important that all the dumb animals in the world.

  • Angela Miele says:

    Air Tran ugly airline ..dispecable….they should be smothered see what it is like to be deprived of life.

  • Jackie says:

    I’m surprised that no one has considered the effect this may have on the girls’ mental health. This very well may have been traumatizing to them it’s very hard to learn to trust authority of any kind after being abused by someone in authority like this. Maybe I’m more sensitive than most but I’d be upset about this for some time. I also think it’s wrong to blame these girls who were bullied by sociopathic crew members. Perhaps for those of you here defending the airline remember what happens when authority goes unquestioned. Things like The Holocaust and Unit 731 happen while people just say they were only doing their job. I’m not saying this is even close to those horrific events but what I am saying is have some balls instead of bullying little girls because you’re afraid of losing your job. AirTran if you should read this as you now know are on PETA’s hate list. You won’t have to worry about people flying with animals on your flights now that people know of your lack of conscience towards them. Finally pets aren’t nearly as much of a problem on planes as bratty children. Kicking seats and screaming. So AirTran will tell someone they shouldn’t have flown with their pet? I know of plenty parents who shouldn’t have flown with their children. Nobody is telling them to put their hellion child in the trash.

  • VL Spencer says:

    I WROTE TO AIRTRAN Shame on the ramp supervisor and everyone involved. Shame on everyone who failed to use common sense and exercise simple courtesy. Shame on Airtran apologists for bending the facts to pretend it was anything else and for suggesting it is somehow ok for Airtran personnel to frighten children into complying with arbitrarily interpreted rules to refuse to reasonably resolve the problem for the benefit of the passengers and then to just help themselves to other people’s belongings particularly a tiny innocent living creature! Heads should roll. Shame on Airtran. AIRTRAN RESPONDED Thank you for contacting us and providing your thoughts regarding our policy on not allowing reptiles and in this case a pet turtle to be carried in the passenger cabin of our aircraft. It is also important to note that the passengers involved were provided the opportunity to make arrangements for the turtle and take a later flight at no additional expense to them several times and refused. At NO time did any AirTran Airways Crew Member ask or order the passengers to place the turtle in a refuse container. Fortunately we have been able to locate the turtle and reunite it with its owners via approved air transportation of reptiles How ridiculous! AirTran defends the indefensible. Based on years of personal experience with Atlanta airport personnel I believe the family’s version. What disturbs me the most is the offhand way that Airtran dismisses the emotional damage that must have been done to this child having been forced to choose between essentially killing a tiny creature she loves and making very adult decisions at who knows what expense affecting the travel plans of her family and a whole planeload of other passengers. Their position would be laughable if it were not such a sad commentary on Airtran that airport and our times.

  • Mr. Ed. says:

    AirTran is the first and last and the largest operator of the Boeing 717s a fourth generation of the DC9 family produced 19982006. If you boycott AirTran because of that the US mainland would have little or no 717s in the skies at all! The 717s are also one of the most fuelfriendly airliner which was pulled out of production because of intense competition with foreign manufactures.

  • Jacquie Miller says:

    This is outrageous. The airline workers should be charged with animal cruelty just as soldiers can be held accountable for atrocities they commit during war.

  • Ginny says:

    I just can’t believe the audacity of those workers. I would be outraged if those were my kids. But many thanks and kudos to the kind worker who rescued Neytiri.

  • Micki says:

    I applied to be an AirTran flight attendant a few months ago when they were hiring but they didn’t hire me. What is so SHOCKING and AMAZING is that I was denied that job even though I have the experience and criteria yet they want to hire the most cruel and thoughtless let alone INHUMANE person over me. This small adorable turtle would not do any harm to anyone or anything on the plane and so I say this to that socalled “friendly” flight attendant “YOU ARE A MEAN AND SELFISH PERSON FOR NOT CARING ABOUT ABOUT THE LIFE AND FEELING OF NOT ONLY THAT TURTLE BUT TO THAT FAMILY. SHAME ON YOU” I say this to the person who saved the turtle “THANK YOU FOR BEING A HERO AND SAVING THAT TURTLE. I AM SURE THAT FAMILY APPRECIATES HOW CARING YOU ARE AS WELL AS THE REST OF US DO.”

  • carol frayne says:

    Once again the right hand not knowing what the left is doing in the case of the airline staff being unfamiliar with the rules of their airline. However when can common sense prevail in these situations? If I were the head stewardess on the flight I would have told the girls to put the aquarium in a plastic bag with the top open under the seat thereby not contaminating anything ont he plane. I would then have given them a reminder that these pets are not allowed on board and don’t do it again. To have brough the whole aircraft back to the gate seems over the top. We must also remember that this 10 year old was not travelling alone she was with her sisters one of whom was 22 years old! As for those allowing the animal to be “trashed” it seems to me that everyone has their head in the sand “don’t bother me I am on my way to a plane.” The more tense everyone seems to be today about flying the more stupid the rules have become and nobody wants to make a decision because “it is more than my job’s worth.”

  • Heather says:

    The “girls” are at fault here for being so willing to throw this poor animal in the trash so as not to inconvenience themselves. The turtle should NOT be returned to them and they should be facing cruelty to animals charges since they are NOT children. That being said the AirTran employees responsible should be severely punished as well.

  • Jennifer says:

    Many here are bandwagoning on reprisal before looking at the facts. Several points to consider logically before automatically bashing the airline 1. There are rules about flying with pets that these people obviously tried to break. If they had carried their turtlecarrier openly unhidden through the security checkgate their duplicity might not have lead to the situation that ensued. The airline can’t randomly bend its rules for people who choose to fly uninformed or attempt to break rules. They have the right and responsibility to enforce their own policies. They clearly state these policies so a pet owner who chooses to not become informed of or violate these is an irresponsible owner making a choice to risk their pet’s wellbeing. PETA should be going after them for their lack of humane treatment as owners they are PRIMARILY responsible for their pets. 2. The girls chose to dump the turtle and were not directed by the airline who offered to let them fly later for free so that they could make arrangements for their pet. For lack of family help they could have contacted a pet courier. Arrangements after being discovered by the airline were THEIR responsibility so again the criticism should be directed to these negligent owners not airlines with clearly delineated policies. 3. Being that these were minors where were the parents in addressing this matter? Too busy to fly with their children thought sneaking the turtle would be easier than arranging transport or home care in their absence? Likely. Again PETA targeting the wrong adversary. 4. People are also complaining about airline travel in general THE OWNER opted this for their pet knowing full well what an air trip involves. Criticize YOURSELF not the airline. There are very good reasons for animals to be contained in flight so get over it. I am an animal lover and pet owner who opted to drive MY pet across the ENTIRE country rather than fly because I thought it important they were less frightened and were able to eat go out etc. Options to transport your pet in more comfortsafety do exist but you have to be an owner willing to researchpay for this. If not then its hypocritical to condemn the airline for the treatment you condemned your pet to receive.

  • Kalama Halamezad says:

    I’m glad to see there’s some sensible people here who opted to check the facts before boycotting AirTran. Sure if the story happened as this blogger conveys it that would be horrible on the airline’s part…but as with many of the stories reported here it’s more about pushing the agenda than sticking to the truth. If anyone deserves your wrath it’s Rebecca the 22 year old who refused to wait two hours to ensure the turtle would be picked up. Clearly the employee who rescued the turtle didn’t think much of the owners considering she gave it to another likely better home until forced to return it by AirTran.

  • Zoe says:

    This is ridiculous. It actually gave me chills of disgust! How could they do such a thing? It’s things like these that scare me the way a person could simply discard a life and crush a child’s heart. If ever I go to Atlanta be assured I’ll NEVER use Airtran.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Just clearing things up the airline never said that they had to throw away the turtle. They only said that he couldn’t go on the plane. It was the family’s decision to put it in the trash. The airline even offered to move the family to the later flight but they rejected the offer.

  • Laura says:

    One of the three sisters was a legal adult. Their ages were 10 13 and 22. The oldest sister was obviously responsible for the other two and should have made a better decision. Whether the airline suggested they throw the turtle away or not is not the main issue. The suggestion itself is not animal abuse the fact that the oldest sister CHOSE to do so IS animal abuse and she should be charged with it. I’m glad they the younger two were reunited with their turtle but there were other solutions and I’m sure the oldest was just tired of dealing with it and wanted to get where she was going so just threw it away. I hope they keep all animals away from her.

  • Amanda says:

    I don’t think you should ever travel with a pet but AirTran should have let this one slide…it is a small turtle! I understand turtles can carry diseases but couldn’t AirTran have taken the turtle and put it somewhere away from the guests and gave it back to the family when they got off? Seriously? Wow AirTran…hope you loose LOTS of buisness!!! You definately won’t be getting my money!

  • Suzy says:

    Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Did these people call ahead to find out the process for flying with a pet? Did anyone notice that the 3 passengers including the 22 yr old sister who was responsible for the younger ones did NOT choose to miss the flight in order to keep their pet safe but actually threw it into a trash bin themselves? The airline did not MAKE them throw their turtle in the trash that was the poor decision of the adult who was responsible for the animal’s life. I would have missed my flight before throwing a living animal into a trash can. They could have done the same. They were offered a later flight at no additional charge but they chose to sentence their pet to death by throwing him into a bin rather than be inconvenienced. They not the airline left him to either starvedehydrate or be crushed to death. These people should not be allowed to have pets if they are willing to literally toss one into the trash rather than be inconvenienced.

  • Beth says:

    Hold on a second I’m surprised as a PETA member myself that PETA agreed to return the turtle to the little girl. After all she was the one who THREW IT IN THE TRASH! Obviously there were many mistakes made by both parties however a little girl who is willing to throw away her turtle in the garbage to catch a flight obviously does not deserve to keep the turtle. They should have let the little child of the person who rescued it keep it.

  • Jeremy says:

    When people stop treating animals as living creatures and start treating them like any other piece of “baggage” you know there is a problem. Its absolutely disgusting that a living breathing turtle was treated like an old candy wrapper because clearly AirTran does not think of animals in any way that would promote love or understanding. I will not be flying with them EVER and before even considering bringing an animal with me on a flight in the future I will be doing a lot of research to determine which airlines actually have a heart and some measure of compassion for living things. After all humans are animals too.

  • Jodi says:

    The bottom line Don’t travel airlines with pets…period. I tried traveling with a 5pound chihuahua who was shoved into cargo with a 100pound box set on top of her carrier. During landing things shifted and almost killed her. Oopsthey didn’t even apologize. Never again! There is so much prejudice against animals who for the most part do fine on travels. AirTran and others need to see an animal in my care as an extension of ME. Would they treat me that way too?

  • Ali says:

    I’m boycotting the airline. That’s disgusting good for you PETA!!!!!

  • Whitney Walker says:

    Jay you are completely right. I missed the part where the older girl was 22. I was thinking both girls were younger. In this case yes the girls were at fault. The Yahoo! article seems to have conflicting information about the trash bin…or else the older girl lied about it. Either way the parents should not have let them bring a turtle to the airport. Still and all the airport was too strict about bending the rules.

  • Jared says:

    I am a bit offended by PETA’s reaction and reporting of this story. The family was offered seats on two later flights for free if they wanted to wait for their father to come and retrieve the animal. The girls chose to throw the turtle in the trash because they were impatient and obviously waiting two hours for the next flight was less important than the life of their “beloved” pet. While AirTran could have done more it really isn’t the responsibility of the airline to babysit. And as a frequent traveller or just about anyone who has travelled after 911 they would know to check the FAA or airline regarding bringing on anything usual. The girls should have thought this through and taken the free later flights offered by AirTran.

  • I HATE AIRTRAN says:

    o my god hearing that story makes me cry a little what kind of big fat meanie will do that. Thats animal abuse. Well atleast the turtle is okay I will never use airtran ever again!!!

  • Jay says:

    The “girl” who disposed of the turtle is actually 22 years old. She did so after refusing to take a later flight offered to her and her sisters at no additional cost. In any case surely there was a better option than placing the poor turtle in the bottom of a trash bin. Airline employees are not allowed to care for pets of course but she could have asked one of the countless airport patrons. The fault here lies solely with the Helm family. It’s sad to know that this innocent creature has been placed back into the care of a family with so little value for its life.

  • Rev. Meg Schramm says:

    This just became one of the many reasons why I would never allow my children if I had any to travel as unaccompanied minors. It would not matter to me if it was an airplane bus or even a taxicab down the street. I can hear it now some are going to say that their exspouse lives in another state and has visitation rights. If this was the case with my husband and me and he had the kids I would go to them or he could take time out of his schedule to fly to where I was with the kids or drive them across country. If I had the kids I would do the same for him. There is no way they would travel by themselves.

  • Whitney Walker says:

    According to the Yahoo! news article the girl chose to put the turtle in the trash bin herself which seems kind of cruel until you realize that 1. She is a young kid and they don’t always make the best decisions and 2. The airline offered her no better choice and she was in a hurry. It was heartless of AirTran to refuse to at least call the father or leave the turtle at a desk somewhere until the father could come get it. All businesses have policies and “protocol” but really AirTran! One tiny turtle is not going to upset things that much. The girls shouldn’t have been allowed by their parents to bring a turtle on the plane in the first place but once they did so it was silly of AirTran to go to such extreme measures.

  • jen says:

    Owners of exotic pets face all types of discrimination. I own a cat ferret and leopard gecko. When you purchase a pet like a turtle you need to register it with the local division of fish and wildlife. This should be a headsup to anyone taking on the responsibility of any animal that they need to consider their pet when they travel. If the ticketing agent and security had no issue with a turtle on the airplane I don’t know why it was decided at the last minute that their pet was not allowed on the plane. I have been in the situation of trying to find rental properties with exotic pets and it is extremely difficult. Usually dogs cats and fish in a small tank or bowl are okay but a caged pet like a ferret or reptile in a tank are not acceptable. If this was a found turtle which sounds more likely from the storytaking wildlife out of the wild is another matter why not have their dad release it where they found it before going to the airport? This is a case of a pet owner being irresponsible for their pet and a company starting to make an exception to policy then deciding against it at an inopportune time. I can see how you would be angry with the airline because they really put this family in a tough situation but if these people were truly concerned for their pet’s wellbeing they wouldn’t have taken it on the plane in the first place or would have found alternate travel arrangements.

  • Connor Colaluca says:

    Although this story is very sad and quite heart breaking you need to read the full story at msn.

  • Pete says:

    I disagree with PETA most of the time and their politics but this is one where I have to say thanks to them. I read the story on yahoo and was po’d as I have 2 young daughters and could not imagine someone doing this to them and then refusing to help. Air Tran get a spine. If this was “protocol” have some morals to have an impromptu plan B which logically would have been to tell the crying girls that someone would call their dad to get the turtle back to him. Do not make the 10 year old and little sister fly home thinking they killed an animal they bonded with over the past few days. I will never fly Air Tran if given the chance and make it a point to tell others not to fly them. I like Air Tran trying to imply that the girl was not telling the truth that someone said “throw it away.” I am sure she conspired that lie on the plane home. Also they gave a 10 year old the chance to take another flight really? They expected a 10 year old to make a decision of sitting at the airport for a few hours as an unaccompanied minor. UMM Hello Air Tran you are whacked. Thanks PETA from a non supporter you did well.

  • Talia Jansen says:

    Air Tran is absolutely intolerant when it comes to animals. I traveled with my 6lb Yorkie from Florida to Pittsburgh and made the mistake of flying this airline. Once I boarded the plane the flight attendent informed me that “that dog better not even have his nose out of that carrier.” I remember asking why she would make such a comment when my dog was clearly in the carrier and I had not had him out at any time. She explained that others on the plane might have allergies even though her perfume was so strong several of the people next to me said they were getting a headache. We had to take a connecting flight and at the airport my poor dog had been in the carrier for almost 3 hours so I started to complain that I needed to take him out to use the restroom. No one would let me. They said there was no place that allowed pets at this airport. The Air Tran Customer Service counter people were no help at all. Their flights were all delayed that day not sure why and when I told them my poor dog needed to go out and stretch his legs but the Airport regulations had no pet walk or place for him to go they stated “Maybe you shouldn’t have flown with your dog.” I replied “Maybe I just shouldn’t have flown Air Tran.”

  • Julie says:

    I agree with christine. I was shocked at the lengths the airline went to return the turtle to its owners who were so willing to throw it out over a few hours difference in flights. these turtles are illegal in the u.s. anyways it should have been confiscated.

  • Julie van Niekerk says:

    Anything that breaths is not trash but tell that to trashy humans!

  • Person who disagrees with troller says:

    So what if you get in trouble? I wold rather has lost my job then killed a turtle! You probably work there or something. Oh and hey Troller if yu’re such an animal hating cruel jerk WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT PETA??? This is where NICE poeple look because they CARE about ANIMALS more than their STUPID JOBS!!!

  • troller says:

    AirTran did the right thing. They acted in accordance with protocol and as a result will likely face no charges. When on the job you cannot allow morality and or emotions cloud your judgment. If you take one step out of line you are in deep trouble.

  • Jenae Clark says:

    This is disgusting! not only is it animal cruelty but to do that to a little girl!!! Not only will i myself EVER use Airtran i will advise every single person i know NOT to use it either. How could someone be so heartless…

  • melissa says:

    The real story here is the girl’s feelings for the turtle. The kids love their pet and having to throw away a pet is pretty ridiculous thing to ask anyone to do. I feel bad for the parent having to make a split decision like this $1000+ worth of airfare for 4 people or a baby pet turtle. I know that some people can fly with their small dogs and cats no problem. The turtle should have been held in lost and found or a front desk until it could be adopted or picked up by someone else. Killing it was a seriously F’d up solution. Anyway I’m glad the turtle is ok cause I can only imagine how it feels to be dumped and crushed

  • Denise Sandulescu says:

    Hello Airtran I have recently read the story about the occurrences on your flight involving the small baby turtles. This sickens and disgusts me in so many ways. I would simply like to assure you that I am never going to be using your airline for my frequent trips around the United States anymore. I hope that many others are sending you similar letters as Airtran deserves less business if they are going to be cruel and heartless. Goodbye Denise Emilia

    • Carley Helm says:

      Thank you btw. I can’t belive it’s already been 4 years but I was cleaning out my closet and I found a couple of articles I had my mom save for me. I decided to look up a few of the articles on Google and read some comments. When it actually happend I was only 10 so I didn’t bother with anybody’s opinions
      At least from the general public that is. But you don’t realize how nice it is to see your comment and only a small handful of the others who were actually on my side and realize how horrible AirTran really is. I havn’t flown on AirTran since this whole thing happend and suprisingly, I even became a vegitarian. My family donates a good amount of money to PETA and we always recive a Christmas card from them every year. I guess they remember us too because they always ask how Neytiri is doing and how big she’s gotten. But I’d just like to say thank you for your support. Because the majority of the comments on all the articlea that were even written about this whole fiasco were all negative and hate towards me saying I’m an animal abuser. So thank you :) This means a lot.

  • Dave Bernazani says:

    I would have raised a howling protest heard throughout the entire airport. Unbelieveable how thoughtless and cruel this airline is. I will NEVER use it and will tell everyone I know this story. Way to go AirTran you just lost a LOT of business!