There were chaotic scenes at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday morning after a major security alert prompted the mass evacuation of the terminal including fully boarded planes that were ready to depart.
The evacuation affected a part of the airport which is controlled by Australian flag carrier Qantas. The hapless airline said the alert was sounded after a passenger “advertently” walked into a secure area of the terminal without being security screened.
The man had just arrived in Melbourne on a domestic flight from Perth where he had been security screened. He was meant to stay in a ‘sterile’ airside area of the airport to catch a connecting flight, but he accidentally wandered into the baggage reclaim hall before realising his mistake and doubling back into the sterile area.
Despite only wandering out of the secure zone for about a minute, an alarm was triggered and security were sent to search for him. But when he couldn’t be located, a decision was made to evacuate the entire airport including any flights he could have boarded.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has slammed Qantas over the security breach, saying the penny-pinching airline removed staff who used to be stationed at the door leading to baggage claim to prevent exactly this kind of incident.
Only last month, 200 passengers on a Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne were detained by police and rescreened because it emerged that a passenger had managed to get on the flight without being security screened.
Qantas, who was responsible for the security screening process in Sydney again claimed an “inadvertent” mistake for the security lapse.
“A passenger appears to have inadvertently passed from an unscreened area to a screened area of the airport in Melbourne,” a statement from the beleaguered airline explained.
“As a precaution, all Qantas operations have been put on hold, and passengers in the terminal are being re-screened which is causing delays to some services this morning,” the statement continued.
“Safety is our number one priority, but we know this disruption is causing some inconvenience for our passengers and we apologise for that. We are investigating how this incident occurred.”
Sue Drake on Twitter said the “huge security breach” resulted in everyone on her flight to Brisbane being disembarked and called through security again.
Qantas has faced a constant barrage of abuse in recent months for delayed and cancelled flights and lost baggage. Furious unions have blamed severe cost-cutting at the airline, as well as outsourcing work to the lowest bidder.
The airline insists it had to make changes to survive the pandemic and says its operations are getting back on track after a major ramp up as travel restrictions were lifted.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.