Freedom Under Law executive director Nicole Fritz is used to defending human rights and fighting to protect the Constitution, but this weekend she unexpectedly found herself in the middle of a row over taking a snake on a plane.
But this was no ordinary snake – it was her son’s treasured plushy, made of fabric and given to him for his birthday by his grandmother.
On Friday night they were happily proceeding through the pre-boarding security screening at OR Tambo International Airport with the fabric snake wrapped around his neck.
“He’s mad about snakes. People in the queue were laughing at the snake around his neck,” said Fritz.
But when it was their turn to be searched and screened, the fun slithered away, and they found themselves at the center of a row over a fake snake that would not be allowed on a plane.
The security official told them they had to throw it away.
“I said this is ridiculous. What are the regulations? Nobody looking at it could mistake it for the real thing.”
But the security official would not budge.
The matter was escalated to an office where the regulations were searched for and could not immediately be found, but Fritz was told that “replicas” were definitely not allowed on the plane.
Fritz was so annoyed that she stood her ground.
“It was so petty and mean-spirited and cruel,” she said.
The official said she would have to check it in, so they rushed over to the check-in counter for their airline, but it had already closed for that flight.
Still hoping to get the snake on the plane, Fritz asked people waiting for the next flight if they would oblige her by checking it in with their luggage and that she would wait for them at Cape Town International Airport to take delivery.
The answer was a firm no.
Eventually, Fritz decided to leave the snake behind and told her bewildered son the snake was going to go for a ride with the pilot.
In the meantime, she is urgently googling a replacement in anticipation of the moment most parents of small children dread – the shrill scream of a child who has realised that a beloved personal item is missing. She returns to Johannesburg on Monday and is hoping it is in an office somewhere.
Airports Company of South Africa has yet to respond.