Policy mix-up separates girl and pet turtle at airport

Policy mix-up separates girl and pet turtle at airport

Tom Lynn

Carley Helm, 10, is reunited with her turtle Neytiri at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee on Thursday. Confusion led to Carley and her pet being separated in Atlanta.

By Becky Vevea of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: June 25, 2010 3:25 a.m. |(12) Comments

Ten-year-old Carley Helm feared her brand-new pet turtle was doomed, the victim of confusion over airline policies regarding the transportation of reptiles.
But thanks to some scrambling by AirTran Airways officials, it made a safe journey from Atlanta to General Mitchell International Airport on Thursday afternoon.

And yes, Carley is sure it’s the same turtle — she can tell by the small white dot below its nose.
After visiting their father in Atlanta, Carley and her two sisters were traveling home Tuesday with the tiny reptile, named Neytiri after the leading lady in the blockbuster “Avatar.” With the turtle in its container, they made it through security, aboard the AirTran aircraft and to their seats in the cabin of the aircraft — showing off Neytiri along the way. No one raised any questions.

However, as the plane began to taxi on the runway, the pilot announced it was turning back because a turtle was onboard, violating Federal Aviation Administration policy. The FAA prohibits reptiles and most animals onboard commercial aircrafts — with the exception of dogs, cats and household birds in approved containers that fit below the seat, said AirTran spokesman Christopher White.
“Reptiles are in no form allowed onboard for safety reasons,” White said. “They are very, very commonly known to carry salmonella.”
“I know policies need to be followed, but (AirTran) should make sure their employees know what the policies are,” her mother, Tracy Helm, said Thursday.

Back at the gate, the girls asked if the airline could keep the turtle until their dad — who was on his cell phone and rushing back to the airport — could pick it up, said their mother. They were told that was not possible, but they could catch a later flight for free.
One of her sisters, Rebecca Helm, 22, opted to deposit the small container with Neytiri into a garbage can next to Gate C2 and told her dad to look for it there and rescue it. When he arrived, the can was empty, and he was told the garbage had probably already been emptied.
Notified of the situation, AirTran officials immediately began contacting everyone who had worked near that gate Tuesday, White said. It turned out an AirTran ramp supervisor had rescued Neytiri from the trash and given the tiny reptile to another employee, who took it home to her 5-year-old son, White said.

A happy return

The employee who had Neytiri returned the turtle.
Neytiri made the trip Thursday to Milwaukee in the cargo of a Delta Air Lines flight because AirTran only transports luggage.
The turtle’s flight did have one last glitch, but this one was common to all air travelers: an hour-and-a-half delay.

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