Weird airport rule forces tough choice
Imagine having to choose between your 10-year old son and your ageing mother who had just had a fall.
This is the situation I was in at Gold Coast Airport when my son was not allowed through security. The reason? He was not wearing shoes.
We were at the airport to farewell my mother onto her flight home after a week's visit. She had a fall after checking in so arrived at security shaken, bruised and in a wheelchair.
"Passengers and guests at Gold Coast Airport are required to wear shoes at all times while in the terminal … for their safety," says Gold Coast Airport chief operating officer Marion Charlton when contacted for this story.
By protecting my son's feet from theoretical harm, this rule - which I have confirmed is a locally created rule, not arising from any legislation - resulted in significant threats to the safety of the people I was responsible for. I was forced to choose between leaving my mother to get herself to her plane (with a high chance of her falling again even if she felt able to leave the wheelchair to walk to the gate) and leaving my 10-year old son unattended (the dangers of which do not need spelling out). Neither of these options screamed "safety" to me.
The security staff showed a complete lack of empathy to my plight; clearly tasked with absolute enforcement of the rule regardless of the consequences. I'd understand this had we been carrying a weapon, making threats or failed the pad-on-a-stick explosives test, but not for being barefoot, particularly at an airport that is less than a kilometre from the beach. I felt like I'd committed a crime.
BARE FEET NOT A CRIME
Being barefoot is not a crime. In my beachside community, being barefoot is common. Shoes often rub my son's feet, and many experts agree that walking barefoot is just fine. After the airport, we were off to go to an indoor trampolining venue where kids take their shoes off on arrival. Given all of this, I hardly rate my son being barefoot as an epic parenting fail.
I was led to believe, by security staff and in a later call to airport management, the "no barefoot" rule is in place because the entire "airside" area of the Gold Coast Airport (formerly known as Coolangatta Airport) falls under liquor licencing legislation. Management have since confirmed this is not the case. "It is not linked to our tenants' liquor licences," says Ms Charlton.
It is true airlines require passengers to wear shoes in order to board a flight - Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger have all confirmed this is the case. However, as we were not flying that day, this didn't apply to my son.
"This regulation is standard at many airports," states Ms Charlton. However, my research has found at least three other coastal airports that do not have this rule. Two noted they would prefer guests to wear shoes but do not enforce this, and one noted they would, helpfully, use the security checkpoint to warn barefoot passengers they would need footwear to board their flight.
I have found one airport, Darwin, that does have a no-barefoot rule because of liquor licencing (requiring footwear in a pub makes sense - there's a lot of glass around, not to mention sticky carpets - but this logic does not extend to farewelling your grandmother on a flight home).
So what decision did I make?
Luckily, one of my daughter's friends was also with us. As she is older (13) and has a mobile phone, I felt fractionally calmer leaving the two kids together while I accompanied my mother through security. I wasn't happy about it - I was responsible for my daughter's friend, and it is not my style to leave her in a busy public space, particularly when the nearest "responsible adults" had just proven themselves to be unsympathetic and even frightening. If she hadn't been with us, I honestly don't know what I would have done.
Luckily also, my mum had access to the Qantas Club lounge where the staff were infinitely more sympathetic. They calmed us both down and offered to escort my mother, in the wheelchair, onto the flight so that I was away from the kids for less time.
SPLIT-SECOND DECISION TO BE MADE
These were all decisions I had to make while we were right in front of the scanner. Though we had arrived at the airport in good time, my mum's fall meant we had little time to spare and there was a huge queue behind us.
I don't know why security didn't suggest what now seems like the obvious solution (which I was too flustered to think of), which was to call one of the volunteer airport ambassadors, who had been very helpful when my mum fell.
"Safety is our top priority," says Ms Charlton. "We put great emphasis on customer experience."
I'll have to score the Gold Coast airport a zero on both counts. My customer experience was about as bad as you can get, and the strict enforcement of a locally proclaimed rule resulted in increased threats to the safety of all three of the people that I was responsible for that day.
Perhaps most sadly, given that we live more than 1500km apart and only see each other a couple of times a year, my mum and son didn't even get to say goodbye.
- Vivienne Pearson is a freelance writer and contributor
- This article originally appeared on kidspot.com.au and was reproduced with permission