Australia’s former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes has settled a dispute with Adelaide Airport over a “humiliating and distressing” experience with security screening.

Key points:

  • Graeme Innes says he was discriminated against at Adelaide Airport
  • He lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission 
  • Adelaide Airport has changed security screening procedures for people with disability 

Mr Innes, who is blind, lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after travelling through Adelaide Airport with his assistance dog in May 2022.

He said he was not treated fairly by security staff and the upsetting experience left him feeling angry and stressed.

After conciliation meetings at the Human Rights Commission, Mr Innes said the complaint had been resolved.

“People with disability know how challenging air travel can be, and that experience needs to be more inclusive,” he said.

“I’m glad Adelaide Airport has listened to my concerns, and pleased we have agreed on common-sense solutions.”

While the terms of the settlement are confidential, an Adelaide Airport spokesperson said security screening queue-management processes had been enhanced to provide greater choice and flexibility to customers living with disability.

“The dialogue we have had with Mr Innes has helped us to refine our processes and further enhance our customer experience,” the spokesperson said. 

Adelaide Airport says security screening queue-management processes have been enhanced.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

What happened?

Mr Innes was travelling home to Brisbane when he tried to use the security body scanner while holding onto his guide dog’s lead.

Graeme Innes pictured with his guide dog Arrow.(Supplied: Graeme Innes)

He said he was refused access to use the body scanner and was asked to use a walk-through X-ray scanner, with his guide dog put through separately.

His colleague then had to intervene and question airport staff after a security guard said Mr Innes needed a pat down, despite him not triggering the security alarm.

Mr Innes said his dog’s metal harness triggered the alarm, and a supervisor later agreed that only the dog needed a pat down.

What’s changed?

Adelaide Airport said people with assistance animals can now be screened at any security lane, rather than a dedicated lane.

“All customer-facing staff and contractors receive disability awareness training, and we will now ensure training will be delivered by organisations run by people with disability,” a spokesperson said.

Mr Innes has welcomed the changes and said when people with disability are ignored, it can lead to disrespectful and insensitive treatment.

“By prioritising disability awareness training delivered by organisations controlled by people with disability, Adelaide Airport is helping its staff understand the issues that really matter to us,” he said.

Calls for better access

Public Interest Advocacy Centre lawyer Mitchell Skipsey represented Graeme Innes and said Australia needed better air travel standards for people with disability.

“Rather than the burden being on individual people with disabilities to make complaints … it really needs a systemic approach from government,” he said. 

Mr Skipsey said Australia was lagging behind places like the European Union, United States and Canada that have comprehensive air travel standards.

“There’s not really a set of government oversight bodies or regulators making sure that any standards like that are followed,” he said.

“Sadly, it does mean that cases like Graeme’s do come up with more regularity than you would hope.”

There have been a number of recent cases where Adelaide Airport has come under fire for its treatment of people with disability.

An airport spokesperson said it took “disability access at our terminal very seriously”.