Boy, 5, heartbroken as OR Tambo official kicks his toy snake off flight
A five-year-old boy was left heartbroken and is still searching for his stuffed toy snake after security at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport told his parents he may not carry it as hand luggage.
"He keeps asking where it is and when we’re going to pick it up. We said that it’s with the pilot and has gone on a trip," Freedom Under Law executive director Nicole Fritz said after her son's toy was taken away.
"I thought it was a petty, mean-spirited, cruel exercise of discretion ... What they were doing was exercising discretion, and the way that they did was to create heartache for a little boy."
Fritz, her husband and their two children booked in for their flight to Cape Town and were in a long queue around 8.30am Saturday morning. While waiting in line, her son took the toy snake out of his bag and put it around his neck.
"It’s not a rubber snake. It’s a soft toy. People were kind of laughing around him. Nobody thought for an instant it was real. Nobody could think it was a lifelike representation," she said.
When they got to the front of the queue, a security guard told them they would either have to throw it away or check it into their luggage.
"We were just so taken aback. We couldn’t believe it.
"We had been waiting in the queue for a long time. We had very little time to make it to the gate."
Fritz asked which regulation forbade animal soft toys as hand luggage. The guard then took her to the security office where Fritz asked to see the regulation.
"She couldn’t show it to me and called someone on speakerphone, who told me that this was the case but, again, couldn’t tell me what the regulation was."
Fritz said she would not have objected if the toy snake looked real.
"Nobody seeing it would think, ‘Oh my goodness’, even at a cursory glance. I was just so angered by that stage, I picked up the bag and said, 'You'll just have to arrest me.'"
A change of heart followed, however: "I decided that I was not prepared to sacrifice my liberty in defence of soft toys everywhere."
A security guard then helped her bypass the queues and escorted her to Kulula’s desk so she could check in the toy snake. But check-in for the flight had already closed.
Fritz then asked another passenger who was flying to Cape Town on another flight if she would check the toy into her luggage, but she declined.
"I don’t know, perhaps they thought this would be drug smuggling or whatever."
Left with no alternative, Fritz threw away the toy, which her mother had bought for her grandson.
"It was a special National Geographic toy that my mom had bought him for his fifth birthday last week. It’s not something that can be easily replaced."
Her experience has prompted similar experiences being shared on Twitter, including by Werner Hefer, who posted that his six-year-old son had a rugby ball confiscated on an international flight.
Fritz said there is probably a regulation around replicas “that entails some discretion”.
“Lots and lots of much bigger injustices are perpetrated every day in this country, but the idea that people who exercise power don’t exercise it in ways that are compassionate and generous just makes me furious.”
TimesLIVE has approached Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) for comment. This story will be updated.