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Crew Cited Phantom Government 'Rule' Barring Child's Pet From Cabin
For Immediate Release: June 24, 2010
Contact: Kristin DeJournett 757-622-7382
Atlanta -- Today, PETA fired off a letter to Robert Fornaro, CEO of AirTran Airways, calling on the company to launch an investigation into its employees' role this week in forcing three youngsters to throw their pet turtle into an airport trash bin, which was sent to a compactor despite the children's tears and their father's plea to the airline to watch over the turtle as he drove to the airport to collect the animal. The group is also calling for all culpable parties to be disciplined and a directive to be issued preventing any live animal from ever being put in the trash in violation of state anti-cruelty laws.
According to the Helm family, the three sisters--who were on their way to Milwaukee from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport--were allowed to board their flight with their tiny red-eared slider, Neytiri, in a small carrier. But as the aircraft began to taxi, the Helms were told that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations prohibited the transport of live reptiles in the cabin, and the aircraft returned to the gate. No such FAA regulation exists. An AirTran employee allegedly refused to watch the turtle while the girls' father rushed back to the airport to pick up the animal and instructed the Helms children to throw the live turtle into a garbage can.
When the girls' father arrived at the airport, he was told that the trash had already been removed and compacted and that Neytiri was presumed dead. AirTran has now changed its story and told the Helms that the turtle was retrieved--by an AirTran employee who found the animal in the trash--and will be flown to them.
"Live animals--whether cats, dogs, or turtles--are not garbage," says PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. "AirTran upset these three girls by making up a federal rule and forcing them to abandon an animal they loved, but let's hope that a lesson has been learned."
For more information about PETA's work to protect animals, please visit PETA.org.
PETA's letter to Robert Fornaro, CEO of AirTran Airways, follows.
June 24, 2010
Robert FornaroCEOAirTran Airways, Inc.
Dear Mr. Fornaro:
PETA is the world's largest animal rights organization, with more than 2 million members and supporters worldwide. We are writing to request that your office launch an immediate investigation into an incident involving AirTran staff, whose reported negligence and dishonesty led to a pet turtle belonging to the Helm sisters--10-year-old Carley, 13-year-old Annie, and 22-year-old Rebecca--being thrown away alive into the trash. The Helm sisters were passengers on AirTran's June 22 flight #421 from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to General Mitchell International Airport (MKE).
The Helm Family contacted our office for help after AirTran staff forced the Helm sisters' pet turtle--a 2-inch baby red ear slider named after Avatar princess Neytiri--off the flight, refused to render minimal help with safekeeping the turtle for a few minutes until Mr. Helm's arrival at ATL to retrieve the animal, and instructed the girls to throw the live turtle into the garbage can at Gate C2. Calls made by our office to ATL maintenance offices indicate that trash bins at ATL are emptied multiple times a day and all trash inside them compacted. Neytiri was presumed to have been crushed in a trash compactor as a result of your staff's refusal to behave in a minimally decent manner toward these young girls and their beloved pet. That is, until the story began to make headlines, at which point AirTran's story changed, and the Helm Family is now being told that the turtle was retrieved from the trash bin and will now be flown back to the Helm Family. If that is true and the turtle was not killed, then that is wonderful news. But it does not excuse the callous behavior of your staff and their willingness to overlook the welfare of the turtle and your company's own passengers.
AirTran staff reportedly cited Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations regarding reptiles flying in airplane cabins as reason that Neytiri was forced off the flight. There is no reference to such rules anywhere in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) or on the FAA's Web site, which in fact states (on its page "Pets in the Passenger Cabin"): "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows each airline to decide if they will allow you to travel with your pet in the passenger cabin. If an airline does allow you to bring your pet into the cabin, we consider your pet container to be carry-on baggage...." Neytiri was barely bigger than a quarter and was safely contained in an appropriate carrier that had been cleared by security and staff at the gate.
Please let us hear from you that you will investigate this incident, take appropriate disciplinary action, and thoroughly review the internal policies and procedures that allowed this incident to take place. Thank you.
Daphna NachminovitchVice PresidentCruelty Investigations Department
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