Members of Canadian HIV/AIDS Group Delayed in Boarding Flight After Security Guard Deemed Them Health Risks to Other Passengers
Members of an HIV/AIDS support group based in Prince George, Canada, last week were delayed in boarding a flight at the Prince George Airport after an airport security guard allegedly said they were health risks to other passengers, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. The members and employees of the group Positive Living North were flying on the airline WestJet to a conference in Vancouver on March 28. According to a spokesperson for the group, the flight was delayed for an hour because the guard expressed health concerns about the group flying and suggested the airport lounge and plane would need to be "wiped down" after the flight.
Catherine Baylis, a Positive Living director, said airport staff first asked the head of the group whether any members had been drinking alcohol before the morning flight. Then staff informed the members that arrangements were being made to seat the group together, even though the members already were sitting together. The group also was told there were mechanical difficulties.
However, Baylis was later told that the guard had suggested the lounge and plane be cleaned. "An attendant confirmed for her that a security guard had said this and the plane couldn't leave because he recognized one of our members," Baylis said. "He didn't name the disease or the person, only that he recognized them and everything would have to be wiped down on the plane after they left, and it was for the safety of everyone," she added.
According to the Globe and Mail, when the WestJet pilot became aware of the situation, he overruled the guard and the group boarded the plane. WestJet spokesperson Richard Bartrem said the airline would never consider "wiping down" a plane after carrying HIV-positive passengers. "It's not that our captain realized there was an issue, it was more a question of realizing there was a nonissue," Bartrem said. "[U]nfortunately, we took a delay in sorting this out," he said, adding that security workers "have a role to fulfill and 99 times out of 100 the whole system works very well" (Atkinson, Globe and Mail, 4/9).
Joe Gaviggin, spokesperson for Garda World Security, which employs the security guards at the airport, said the company became aware of the incident on Monday, the Prince George Citizen reports. "We are looking into this to try to figure out exactly what did happen," he said, adding, "Once we're able to do that, then we'll be in a position to decide what actions need to be taken," he said (Stanfield, Prince George Citizen, 4/8). The company has agreed to provide sensitivity training to its employees, the Citizen reports.
Baylis said the training will take place May 8. She added that the group would like a public apology, "but I know that we can't demand one." The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority said it is still investigating the incident. A spokesperson for the authority said that it is waiting for a detailed report of what happened and that it will dictate its response toward the security guard (Stanfield, Prince George Citizen, 4/9).