Airport grilling upsets disabled girl's mum

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2013
Steph Alty with her daughter
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
SECURITY STANDOFF: Johnsonville mother Steph Alty says a security officer at Auckland Airport who mistook her disabled daughter’s suction machine for a bomb "was full-on attacking me and accusing me of having a bomb".

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A young mother says she was made to feel like a terrorist when an Auckland airport security officer mistook her disabled daughter's medical equipment for a bomb.

Aaliyah Alty, who turns 2 next month, has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy caused by head injuries suffered after falling off a couch in May.

Aaliyah, of Johnsonville, Wellington, requires constant care at the level of a newborn baby and needs a suction machine to stop her drowning in her own mucus.

On Wednesday she and mum Steph Alty were travelling back from a physio and rehab session in Takapuna with Steph's little brother Charlie, 11, when the security officer repeatedly questioned what the machine was as it went through an X-ray scanner.

Finally, he asked Alty, 23, if it was a bomb.

"He was full-on attacking me and accusing me of having a bomb, and I was telling him what it was," Alty said.

"He made me feel like I was a terrorist and it just made the stress of Aaliyah's situation more full-on. It made me feel like we weren't going to get home."

She tried to show the paperwork clearing the machine for flight, but said the officer would not let her take it out of her bag and then began dismantling the machine, including taking out the suction tube.

A senior officer was called to the screening point and apologised to Alty before inspecting and clearing the suction machine.

She said other security officers and Air New Zealand staff had been supportive and had tried to talk the officer down.

After being contacted by The Dominion Post yesterday, Aviation Security Service general manager Mark Wheeler said he was concerned the service had not lived up to its reputation.

"The Aviation Security Service apologises unreservedly to Ms Alty, her daughter and her brother for the way they were treated.

"We pride ourselves on providing world-class aviation security service to the travelling public and . . . this is not acceptable.

"Unfortunately the officer did not approach the situation in a very sensitive way. Ms Alty and her family understandably became upset."

Alty has asked for a written apology from the officer. Wheeler said he saw "absolutely no problem" with that.

An investigation would be conducted, but it was too early to know whether the officer would face disciplinary action, he said.

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