Airports failing older flyers

An Australian airport has been put to shame after 85-year-old Helen Sweetnam’s handbag was stolen during a regulation security check at Melbourne Airport.

Ms Sweetnam was asked to step aside in the security line after her pacemaker set off an alarm. While waiting for a female security officer to pat her down, her handbag, somewhat ironically, was stolen from the security conveyor belt.

In it was $630 in cash, her smartphone, wallet, credit card and medical records. Suffice to say, it was a horror start to Ms Sweetnam’s journey to Mt Gambier to see her daughter.

“I was feeling sick with shock,” she told the ABC. “I immediately said to them my bag was missing.”

Airport security were able to check CCTV and to recover the handbag – and find the woman who stole it – but not all of its contents were recovered. The woman who had the bag said she ‘took it by mistake’.

Ms Sweetnam was not happy, and has called on the airports to lift their game when dealing with elderly or disabled passengers.

“If I’m forced to put my stuff on that [conveyor belt] and then I’m moved away from it then it has to be their [Melbourne Airport’s] responsibility to take care of my stuff,” said Ms Sweetnam.

But her complaints have apparently fallen on deaf ears, and Melbourne Airport seems to have dismissed her concerns.

“I think it’s bloody rude. There’s been no response, and I feel that I’m just being treated like, ‘if we don’t respond she’ll go away’,” she said.

Council on the Ageing Victoria chief Ronda Held said complaints about the ‘undignified’ treatment of older people at Australian airports was commonplace.

“Not all people who need assistance have somebody with them to keep an eye on them,” said Ms Held.

“If you’re in a wheelchair or if you’re frail or if you’ve got a sight impairment then it’s very hard to keep track of your luggage.

“It should be a basic protocol that people get to keep their luggage with them if they are going to be pulled aside for any period of time for a check.”

Have you suffered ‘undignified’ treatment at an Australian airport? Do you think it’s the airport’s responsibility to watch your belongings in the security line, especially under these types of circumstances?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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