Mum hits out at airport security over ‘traumatic’ search of autistic child

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Luna Muñoz and her 15-year-old child Eli were supposed to fly to Boston from Manchester Airport to visit family. But when they arrived at airport security, she claims Eli was put through a “traumatic” experience.

Ahead of their flight on June 1, Luna had made enquiries about the special assistance Eli is entitled to.

The special assistance included more time for Eli to process instructions, such as security, and finding ways in which they can be searched comfortably, reports Manchester Evening News.

At security, Eli triggered the metal detector and was made subject to a search.

Luna said she tried to speak to staff about carrying out the practice in a way Eli would find manageable – such as giving them some time to process the instructions – but she claims Eli had already been touched on their back and shoulder, even though they had started to cry and show clear signs of distress.

A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said the company is “satisfied” its staff did what they could to reassure Eli and Luna in this instance.

Luna, a career coaching consultant from Liverpool, said: “I don’t even hug my child unless I have consent.

“I understand this person has to do their job. But touching someone on their shoulders or their back is intimate touching, that’s not touching to do their jobs.

“They were trying to be reassuring, but for a person with special needs, that’s not reassuring.”

Upon arrival at Manchester Airport, Eli was given a sunflower lanyard to indicate to staff their special assistance needs – something airport staff maintain was taken into account during the incident.

Luna said Eli started to “grimace” and cry while being searched, before running away in distress and having a panic attack.

Once the family got through security, Luna did her best to help Eli feel more settled – but the encounter had made a lasting impact.

“I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to just cry.

“I didn’t want Eli to see that. I thought ‘I don’t think we’re going to be protected or safe beyond this point’.”

The family decided to go home and cancel their much-anticipated trip, with Luna saying she couldn’t face the possibility of further distress for Eli.

Luna said: “We haven’t seen family in three years now, and this was our chance.

“It has been a long, long time. It was a hard choice. But we talked about it as a family and thought no, it’s not worth it.”

Luna said she understood that Eli, like everyone else, had to go through airport security.

But she claims that no attempts were made to make the experience more comfortable for Eli.

“You don’t expect special treatment, but there is a way to do it. You do expect a little more in terms of time and patience,” she said.

A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said: “The security of our passengers and staff is of paramount importance and our security process must be applied consistently.

“In this case, the passenger activated a walk-through metal detector and so a hand search was necessary, in line with security regulations.

“Our security team explained to the passenger and his mother why this was necessary prior to conducting the search.

“Security colleagues are trained in how to engage with passengers who have hidden disabilities such as autism and we are satisfied that they did their best to reassure the passengers concerned in this instance.

“We are, however, sorry to hear they found the experience distressing and would welcome any feedback from Ms Muñoz on how she feels the process could be improved.”

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