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Heathrow: 6ft9in basketball star 'humiliated' in airport security search as he was 'too big for scanners'

MyLondon 11/29/2022 Hannah Cottrell

A British basketball star was left 'humiliated' after being forced to undergo a private search by security staff at Heathrow Airport. John Amaechi, a six foot nine inches former NBA legend was left 'furious' after staff at the West London airport told him he was 'too big' for the scanners.

Mr Amaechi, the first openly gay player in America's NBA, revealed online that he was 'randomly selected' to undergo an additional search after setting off an alert on the full-body detectors. The 52-year-old retired sportsman, who now practices psychology and was awarded an OBE in 2011 for his services to sport, was then flagged down again by a second scanner.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday November 23 to recount the experience, he wrote: "Just had to go through a 'private' search at @HeathrowAirport. First 'beep' was 'random selection (almost every time) then another machine gave a 'double yellow' [because] and I quote 'you're too big'. Then a private search with two people. Humiliating to be escorted away. Furious, again."

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Security staff in the first-class queue at Terminal 5 blamed the former basketball star's height as the reason for the intimate search. But the excuse left Mr Amaechi 'furious'. The sports legend, who is now a company director and a best-selling author told the Guardian: "I am a 6ft 9in black man standing in security, clearly not able to move on from my free will, and the passengers … are looking at me - like what's he done?"

He recalled that he had to stand there for between 12 and 15 minutes before being led to a private room where two men watched on while he was searched, which to Mr Amaechi was all the more invasive than when people can see you. He added: "The idea that a random beep can escalate to that seems outrageous to me."

The sentiment was also felt in Twitter comments to Mr Amaechi's post. One person wrote: "This is simply unacceptable and frankly bull***t. How can someone require a private search because they are 'too big?' 6'8'' middle-aged white bloke here and I've never been asked to step aside for a 'private' search."

John Amaechi retired from the NBA in 2003 © Todd Warshaw/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images John Amaechi retired from the NBA in 2003

Another added: "Data point from a similar sized bloke. I have never been selected for 'private' search at a UK airport. Didn't even know they existed", while a third wrote: "Depressing that. Sorry John."

In response to the incident, a spokesperson for Heathrow told MailOnline: "We understand that being called for additional security checks can have an impact on a passenger's experience at the airport. These extra checks are not discriminatory and will only ever happen for reason of security."

They continued: "Whenever this is needed, we will invite the passenger to a private room so these checks can take place promptly and in private. Our aim is to complete this process as smoothly as possible and allow passengers to continue on their journey. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome at Heathrow whether they are a passenger or a colleague."

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