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Disabled passenger's airport experience unacceptable

Belfast International Airport has quite properly apologised to a disabled man unable to board a flight because his wheelchair repair kit was regarded as a security risk but this was a situation that should never have happened.

Steve Smithers, who lives in Killinchy, Co Down, wanted to travel to England to visit his seriously ill father, who has cancer and is about to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

The 48-year-old, who is paralysed from the chest down, encountered difficulties at the security gate at Belfast International, where he was told that the spanners in the tool kit which is essential for wheelchair users, 'could be used to dismantle the plane'.

This was a ludicrous comment to a passenger confined to a wheelchair but it is not the only aspect of this troubling case that should cause wider concern.

It is apparent that not enough was done to ensure Mr Smithers was able to complete his journey.

He was told he would have to put his bag, which also contained his medical supplies, in the hold but that if he did so he would not make it back through security in time for his flight.

When Mr Smithers suggested giving the tools to cabin crew for the duration of the flight, he was told this was not possible.

Had he left without the tool kit, he would have been unable to adjust a hire car he had arranged at Gatwick.

Listening to Mr Smithers's account of his ordeal, it is clear this was all deeply upsetting, which is absolutely unacceptable.

The airport has acknowledged that his experience 'fell well below the standards expected of security personnel' and pledged to review its customer service.

Hopefully, the airport will learn from this distressing case and ensure people with disabilities have a positive experience when they travel.

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