El Al Takes Passenger's Belongings, Makes Her Buy New Shoes on Way to Israel

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El-Al ticket counter in Ben-Gurion International Airport. Passengers line up at the counter.
El-Al ticket counter in Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A Russian woman who flew from Lisbon to Israel on El Al after arriving on a connecting flight without going through the airline’s security inspection was allowed to board the plane only after buying new shoes and surrendering everything but her money, credit cards and passport.

Moreover, though she arrived in Israel over a week ago and is due to return to Russia shortly, she has yet to receive her belongings. When she complained to the airline, El Al told her the complaint would be answered within 21 working days.

Kseniya Ruvinskaya, 30, of Moscow, arrived in Israel on April 24 from Lisbon, after arriving on a connecting flight from the Caribbean, where she had been on vacation. Ruvinskaya’s in-laws live in Israel, and she came to visit them.

After deplaning in Lisbon, she went straight to the gate, in the understanding that since was ticketed all the way through Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv she was not required to first pass through El Al’s security station.

At the gate, she says, security guards took her aside and questioned her for 45 minutes. An El Al agent then told her she couldn’t board the plane, since she hadn’t undergone the requisite security checks. The agent also said the next flight wouldn’t be for another few days, so Ruvinskaya would have to find a place to stay in Lisbon.

Ruvinskaya rejected that idea, she says, and appealed to El Al employees to solve the problem. She offered to go back to security and have her bags checked, or alternatively to leave her carry-on and have El Al send it on a later flight.

None of the El Al workers ever apologized or offered to help, she told Haaretz. “They talked to me as if I were annoying fly that was making trouble for them.”

Meanwhile, the flight was delayed, leaving time for another two hours or so of fruitless wrangling. Throughout this time, the security guards never bothered to search either her or her luggage, she says.

Finally, however, they asked her if she’d be willing to buy new shoes, while refusing to promise that if she did so she would be allowed onto the flight. She decided to try anyway, and accompanied by an El Al employee she went to a duty-free store and bought a pair for 70 euros.

Next, she says, two women — an El Al employee and someone she took for a police officer — took her into a bathroom and check her with a metal-detecting wand. Her metal bra fasteners made the wand beep, so they asked her to remove the bra and fly without it.

Finally, they asked her to hand over her cellphone and carry-on, promising that everything would be sent to her in Israel after an inspection. Ruvinskaya boarded the plane with nothing but a plastic bag containing her passport, credit cards and cash.

In a response, El Al said that Ruvinskaya’s partner told her that she would have to report to the airline’s counter and go through El Al security after arriving in Lisbon, but she opted not to do so.

Ruvinskaya and her partner confirmed that an El Al agent called the latter. But they say he was called only after Ruvinskaya was already at the airport, and they dispute the airline’s claim: They said the agent’s instructions were for her to go directly to the gate, not to the check-in area and through security.

El Al also said it couldn’t send Ruvinskaya’s carry-on back to security for inspection, “because of the short time remaining before departure,” and that she had agreed to fly without her carry-on.

“We’re trying to locate the passenger’s luggage and apologize for the inconvenience,” the company added. “If the luggage isn’t found, the customer will be compensated appropriately.”

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