By Thandi Skade & Shain Germaner

(source: Star Newspaper – Wednesday, 24/08/2011, Front page Headlines)

A South African woman was left traumatised and humiliated when she was forced to strip down to her jeans after airline staff incorrectly accused her of carrying a bomb.

Alta Klein is still reeling from the incident, which she said occurred for “no proper reason” and without explanation. The girlfriend of a prominent South African soccer player, Klein was shocked by the strip search and is considering legal action against El Al Israel Airlines, who hired the security staff who allegedly degraded her.

Klein was checking into her El Al flight to Tel Aviv, departing from OR Tambo International Airport last Thursday when her handbag set off the scanners alarm.

El Al Airlines general manager Roz Bukris said the airline would not give a statement on its security, but would be conducting an investigation into the incident. “We have yet to receive an official complaint,” she added.

Klein claims she was kept waiting for an hour while airline staff searched and scanned her handbag, camera and cellphone thoroughly before she was led into an office with a small dressing room. She said she noticed her handbag in an X-ray machine and was told to take a seat. Two women, who emerged from a back room, told her to take her shoes and jacket off, which she did.

“Straight after that they came back out and told me that they needed to do a strip search to check my clothes and body. I asked what it was for. I had asked the same question throughout my waiting and they always had the same answer: ‘We have detected a bomb’,” she recalled.
She was told to go behind the dressing room curtain, where two airline personnel manually scanned her body and patted her down back to front, shoving the scanner down her pants.

“I was asked to open my jeans to scan the buttons, and I had to open it and they put the machine down my pants a bit, and around the waist and my back,” she said. Klein was reduced to tears as she was forced to remove her bra in front of the female staffers, who later took it to be scanned.

Nearly an hour-and-a-half after her ordeal had begun and a second round of body-searching her jeans, inside her pants and waist, she was told toput her clothes back on and was released to board her flight with no further explanation offered.

“I have never felt so humiliated in my life. I felt so sick and confusedthat when I got onto the plane, I walked all the way to the back when my seat was right in the front. It was really traumatic, and with no proper reason or explanation. All they kept on saying was they had detected a bomb,” Klein said.

Media Review Network chairman Iqbal Jassat condemned the incident. “The MRN is disillusioned and disappointed that such incidents continue to occur at these El Al offices with impunity, despite such incidents having been reported to the relevant authorities,” he said.

Klein’s boyfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Star they were still weighing up their legal options, but both feel the security team were heavy-handed. “It was inappropriate, they went overboard physically and it went too far,” he said. Another passenger on the flight said the security staff were verbally abusive with her, telling her she had been smuggling a bomb and mistreated her. “This is the last time I will want to travel with El Al,” he said.

* A shorter version of this article appeared in the Pretoria News, Page 3.