Belfast airport apologises after wheelchair user turned away

Steve Smithers, who is paraplegic, was turned away at the security check at Belfast international Airport and missed his flight to see his sick father.
Steve Smithers, who is paraplegic, was turned away at the security check at Belfast international Airport and missed his flight to see his sick father.

A disability charity has slammed Belfast International Airport after staff stopped a paraplegic man from getting on a flight, claiming his wheelchair repair kit was a security risk.

Steve Smithers, who is paralysed from the chest down, was turned away at the security check and missed his flight to see his sick father.

Belfast International Airport.  Picture by Bernie Brown.

Belfast International Airport. Picture by Bernie Brown.

The 48-year-old said security staff told him the spanner kit he travels with to repair his wheelchair would be a security risk because they could be used to “dismantle the plane”.

He was travelling to London Gatwick to visit the 79-year-old, who is about to start treatment for cancer.

Mr Smithers was told by security staff he would have to put the wheelchair repair kit in the hold, but that if he did so he would miss his flight due to the long queues at security.

A spokesperson at disability charity Leonard Cheshire the experience of Mr Smithers is “just one example of the many challenges disabled people face” when trying to travel on public transport.

“It is clearly unacceptable that anyone would be treated in this manner and demonstrates the urgent need for better training for staff who find themselves in these types of situations,” the spokesperson added.

Leonard Cheshire has recently launched a campaign aimed at improving the travel experience of people with disabilities, whether on trains, buses, aeroplanes or using taxis.

“It is important that we raise awareness of these issues so that public transport becomes more accessible to disabled people and the barriers to independence are removed,” they added.

Mr Smithers has said he does not want to fly again following his experience at Belfast international Airport.

Both EasyJet and the car hire company have refunded Mr Smithers in full.

The airport has apologised to Mr Smithers and said will make a donation to a local charity on his behalf.

In a statement, the airport added that it would be immediately reviewing customer service and escalation procedures with its security provider ICTS.