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ATLANTA, GA – AirTran Airways has sparked controversy over their request to a trio of sisters.

A caged, 2-inch turtle at first sight seems harmless enough. To AirTran Airways, however, it represents a potential for contamination and infection and is not allowed in their cabins. The Helm sisters were obligated to throw their pet away in order to proceed with their flight.

10-year-old Carley’s pet turtle, Neytiri, caused a crew to turn around a taxiing plane, take the girl and her sisters off the flight and tell them they couldn’t bring their pet along.

Carley was forced to throw Neytiri, along with its cage, in the trash and returned to her seat crying Tuesday after AirTran Airways employees said they couldn’t care for the turtle. Two days later, however, Carley was reunited with her 2-inch turtle even though at first the family thought the pet was emptied with the trash.

Carley was heading home to Milwaukee after visiting her father in Atlanta with sisters Annie, 13, and Rebecca, 22. Rebecca seemed stunned when the sisters were told they’d have to throw the turtle away if they wanted to reboard their flight.

“I asked, ‘What do you mean get rid of it?’ and they said throw it away,” Rebecca told the AP. “I was very sad, and I felt bad for my littlest sister because it was her first pet and she was planning to take care of it herself.”

AirTran company policy bans animals other than cats, dogs and household birds in the cabin, said spokesman Christopher White. White cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that says the reptiles have been known to carry salmonella bacteria.

The sisters’ mother reported what happened to animal rights group PETA, which sent a letter to AirTran demanding an investigation and disciplinary action.