An Adelaide entrepreneur and disability advocate says he recently endured one of the “worst experiences” he has encountered in “15 years of flying with a disability”.
- Shane Hryhorec recently returned to Australia from Germany via Abu Dhabi
- He said he was searched and asked to get out of his wheelchair and had his passport confiscated
- The experience has left him “shaken” and prompted a call for change
Shane Hryhorec, who runs disability equipment supplier Push Mobility, said he had his passport confiscated and wheelchair seized at Abu Dhabi airport after he was forced to leave one of the chair’s batteries behind in Germany.
The “ordeal” occurred when he returned to Australia from Europe earlier this week.
“I travel a lot with my work and … I’ve had some pretty rough experiences before,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Stacey Lee.
“But not once have I been in a place where the security guard – in this case the police who managed the security at the airport – searched me in a very forceful way and then took me into a private room.”
Hryhorec said the journey had been worrying from the start when he boarded the Etihad Airways flight in Munich.
“Like most wheelchair users, I have a motor that helps me be independent, and after I got on the plane, the cabin crew came in and said, ‘Hey look, you have too many batteries, one of them has to be left or you can don’t fly,” he said.
Thinking “things couldn’t get any worse”, Mr Hryhorec then had a further confrontation as he passed through security at Abu Dhabi International Airport, which left him feeling “offended, upset” and “angry” .
“They started searching me without asking permission and then took me into a private room and told me I had to get out of my wheelchair and they had to take it away for scanning, after which I refused,” said he.
“For me or any person with a disability, to have your wheelchair taken away from you — you don’t know if you’re going to get it back.”
‘They thought I was a terrorist’
Hryhorec said when he was asked to move to an “office chair with a big hole in it and six little wheels,” he feared harming himself and demanded to speak to a manager.
“This ordeal went on for a while – they confiscated my passport. The airport staff said if you don’t follow through, they will most likely arrest you and things will get much worse,” he said.
“I had no choice but to get into a seat and they took my chair away, they put it through x-ray machines and scanned it and finally they brought it back to me and I continued my journey.
“Obviously I was very shaken – imagine traveling through a destination and having a disability and then being arrested and sent to jail or whatever.”
Abu Dhabi International Airport and Etihad Airways have been contacted for comment.
“In 15 years of flying, I have never been asked to get out of my wheelchair,” Mr Hryhorec said.
“I felt like they thought I was a terrorist.”
South Australian Human Services Minister Nat Cook described Mr Hryhorec’s experience as “appalling” and said it highlighted the need for reform and greater awareness in the global aviation industry.
“I would love to try to connect and see what we can do with our federal government to engage with airlines and global providers,” she said.
“I understand there are different standards globally … but let’s at least see if we can make this a bit of a starting point.”