Belfast Telegraph

Treatment of disabled man not allowed on Belfast flight 'deeply regrettable': DUP MP Girvan

By Mark Edwards

A DUP MP has said the treatment of a disabled man who was not allowed to get on a flight because his wheelchair repair kit was deemed a security risk was "deeply regrettable".

Steve Smithers, 48, was travelling from Belfast to Gatwick to visit his elderly father who has cancer on Saturday.

However, he was prevented from going through security because of a spanner kit he travels with to repair his wheelchair. As he was unable to check the spanner kit into the hold of the plane, Mr Smithers was forced to abandon his journey.

Belfast International later apologised to Mr Smithers for the manner in which he was treated by security staff, saying the treatment he experienced "fell well below standards expected from security personnel".

Steve Smithers

Earlier in the week, fed-up passengers slammed the airport as "the worst in the UK" amid growing anger over long security queues.

The airport said it had experienced difficulties in recent months due to "unprecedented passenger numbers."

South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan met with senior management from the airport alongside alongside MLAs Pam Cameron and Carla Lockhart on Tuesday and said the airport had assured them "ambitious plans" were being prepared to better meet customer needs and accommodate expected passenger growth.

Mr Girvan said there was no doubt the passenger facilities needed to be improved and re-training provided to ICTS security staff at the airport.

He said: “I spent ninety minutes with airport senior management and I believe they fully understand the extent of the challenge they face.

"This weekend, the experience of Steve Smithers was deeply regrettable and undoubtedly caused distress.

"Management has apologised fully to Mr Smithers for the way he was treated. Under unambiguous Government rules, it is not possible for people to take spanners or other tools through to the aircraft. There are no exceptions to this.

"What was troubling was the attitude faced by this passenger and the stone-walling that occurred. I have been assured that security staff will undergo appropriate customer service re-training to ensure this type of situation does not happen again and no other passenger has the same experience."

A queue at Belfast International Airport

Mr Girvan said he understood "contractual discussions" are underway in relation to security at the airport and that an announcement on the matter is likely "within a few weeks".

He added: "Due to the commercially sensitive nature of these discussions further details are not available at this stage.

"Overall, I have been reassured following this discussion with representatives. The airport is a major employer within South Antrim and I want to see it continue to grow. Hundreds more jobs will be provided over the next year to meet demand for services as more routes are added.”

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