Belfast International Airport has come under fire after refusing to allow a wheelchair user on a flight with his wheelchair repair kit after it was deemed a security risk.
Steve Smithers, who was flying to London Gatwick, carries an RGK kit containing spanners and wheel nuts as well as his catheter and diabetes medication and was left in tears after staff at the security desk claimed the spanners could “dismantle the plane.”
Staff told him he would need to put it in the hold, but if he did so, he would not have enough time to make it back through security and on the plane. When suggesting cabin crew could hold the kit until landing, his proposal was dismissed. Despite explaining there was a rental car waiting at the other side which would require his kit to adjust his chair to fit the car, security supervisors refused him access beyond the gate.
Steve had booked the flight to visit his 79-year-old father who was set to begin chemotherapy but has been forced to postpone until the end of August, vowing to never fly again.
EasyJet and the car hire company issued full refunds, with the budget airline offering compensation for his time waiting on his luggage thereafter.
He told the BBC: “When I booked this trip, all I wanted to do was to get to see my seriously ill father.
“I have travelled extensively over the 11 years I have been paralysed and there have never been any problems preventing me from doing so independently.
“I just wanted someone to listen to me. For disabled people it is not about asking for special treatment, but simply wanting the opportunity to live life as unimpaired by our disabilities as is possible, and to be allowed to do so with dignity. On this occasion, it was particularly pertinent for me as this was the last opportunity I would have to see my father before he starts chemotherapy, but no disabled person should have to experience this, regardless of the circumstances for their trip.”
An airport spokesperson said: “As the treatment experienced by Mr Smithers during this process fell well below standards expected from security personnel, in order to remedy this, the airport will be immediately reviewing customer service and escalation procedures with our security provider ICTS.”