Prohibited items South Africa airport
(Getty Images)
  • The South African Civil Aviation Authority determines what is and is not allowed to be carried on flights.
  • Some items are obvious, like guns, knives, pepper spray, and tasers.
  • Others are a bit more unusual, like plush toy snakes and soccer balls.
  • Airports Company South Africa is mandated to confiscate these prohibited items and that can lead to some tense standoffs with passengers at the security checkpoint.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Passengers trying to board flights with prohibited items in their carry-on luggage, whether purposefully concealed or unconsciously stashed, often clash with airport security. It’s a daily standoff that plays out at airports across South Africa, with common and unusual confiscated items ultimately being destroyed.

There’s a list of items which can’t be brought onto planes in a passenger’s hand-luggage. Most of these items are well-known and their detection at security checkpoints isn’t usually the result of nefarious smuggling but rather forgetfulness.

Sharp objects are the most commonly confiscated items. Scissors, card knives, nail clippers, and sewing kits are the main culprits. The same is true for flammable but otherwise innocuous liquids like nail polish containing acetone or perfumes with a “flammable” sign on the bottle.

Prohibited items are determined by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) enforces the rules, through detection and confiscation, usually at the security checkpoint.

If the passenger is mindful of the contents of their luggage and declares any prohibited items at check-in, they have an option to store the item in their hold baggage.

If not, the passenger is left with two options: hand the item to a person who dropped them off or return to the parking garage and put the item in their vehicle. If neither of those options are viable, the item is confiscated by ACSA staff, with no way of the passenger getting it back.

“We appeal to passengers not to debate or argue with staff at security checkpoints. The security staff have been trained on what is permitted. On occasion they may check with a supervisor on a particular item. But ultimately the decision of the security staff is final,” Samukelo Khambule of ACSA tells Business Insider South Africa.

“Passengers who disagree with the rules or the application of the rules are encouraged to state their view to the SACAA or airport management. Arguing with staff at security checkpoints will not change the decisions and may create tense situations that are entirely unnecessary.”

Other prohibited items are more obvious and pleading naivety is unlikely to be viewed as a valid excuse. This includes firearms – even replica or toy guns – ammunition, pepper spray, tasers, ninja stars, and pocket knives.

But there are unusual items which passengers simply overlook, often resulting in disbelief when confiscated.

Toy snakes, spiders, and other insects – whether plastic or plush – can, and are, confiscated by airport staff at security checkpoints. ACSA explains that the sight of a snake or spider – even in toy form – could affect other passengers and that it has a responsibility to confiscate “items that have been deemed to have the potential to cause adverse reactions by passengers during a flight.”

Passengers will also have to forfeit – or deflate – soccer and rugby balls. When a plane reaches its maximum altitude, the cabin pressure drops, which causes trapped air – like in an inflated ball – to expand. Although it’s unlikely, this expansion could result in the ball bursting.

ACSA says that these confiscated items, from knives to toy spiders and soccer balls, aren’t stored. Instead, they’re tallied at the end of every shift and then passed onto a contractor for “disposal”. 

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