Travellers are facing major delays due to new security measures in airports across Australia. Stricter screening will stay in place indefinitely following the discovery of a terror plot involving a plane.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced over the weekend that “a terrorist plot to bring down an airplane” had been uncovered and thwarted by authorities. The Australian Federal Police declined to confirm reports that the plot may have involved a homemade bomb or the planned release of poisonous gas. Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters that the specifics were still under investigation.
“What you are seeing at the moment is making sure that there is extra vigilance, to make sure that we aren’t cutting any corners in our security, to make sure that we are absolutely focused on our security,” he said.
Four men are currently being held without charge under counter-terrorism laws following raids in Sydney over the weekend. Police were seen on Monday combing through several Sydney properties. But it remains to be seen whether these searches have yielded any evidence that could help with the investigation. The authorities aren’t taking any chances though as new security measures are being extended to all major airports across Australia.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton told reporters that the terror plot could prompt long term changes at all major airports.
“The security measures at the airports will be in place for as long as we believe they need to be, so it may go on for some time yet,” Dutton said. “It may be that we need to look at the security settings at our airports, in particular, our domestic airports, for an ongoing enduring period.” As of right now, the changes are expected to be in place indefinitely.
Mr Dutton has advised that passengers arrive earlier than usual—three hours before international flights and two hours before domestic flights—to allow extra time for the new screening measures.
According to one source at a major carrier, airlines and airports have been instructed to increase baggage checks as an extra precaution. Some luggage checks are now even being conducted as travellers queue to check in their belongings, causing even further delays for passengers passing through security.
Although there have been no official changes to baggage restrictions, Mr Turnbull has urged travellers to limit their carry on and checked baggage as much as possible for more efficient security screening. “Some of the measures will be obvious to the public, some will not be. Travellers should be prepared for additional scrutiny at screening points,” he said.
Some passengers at Adelaide and Sydney airports have reported delays up to 90 minutes before passing through security. One journalist from ABC reporting from the Sydney International terminal noted that the effects of the new checks were immediately noticeable with longer than usual queues.
“What people can expect to see is an increased police and security agency presence,” Mr Colvin said. “You can expect longer delays to make sure that more screening is being done on baggage – both hold luggage as well as hand luggage.”
Dr John Coyne, head of the Border Security Program at ASPI, has said that the new measures will give the authorities the chance to identify potential vulnerabilities in airport security. Passengers can expect more precise x-ray screening as well as an increase in swab tests. Behind the scenes, airport personnel will also be looking for any suspicious or anomalous behaviour.
For travellers it means longer delays due to enhanced security checks, causing many to take to Twitter and other social networks to express their frustrations with the new measures.
Two of Australia’s busiest airports—Melbourne and Sydney—were plagued with long queues and delayed check-ins on Monday morning. From the Qantas terminal at Sydney, the queue stretched all the way out the front door. In Melbourne, passengers reported seeing Australian federal police and Victoria police officers patrolling as queues formed outside the security gates.
Virgin Australia released a statement urging passengers to arrive several hours before their scheduled flight and to not be alarmed by the new measures.
“The travelling public can expect to experience an increased level of security scrutiny at the airport but they should not be concerned about these precautionary measures,” the statement said. “As the measures place an additional burden on the screening system, it may take a little longer than usual to get through the process.”
The justice minister, Michael Keenan, has said that the new measures were necessary to keep Australians safe.
“Scanning is of course part of the multilayered approach that we have but it’s not the only thing we do,” he said. “Anyone passing through an Australian airport today will see extra security but they will only see part of the multilayered approach that we do.”
Keenan would not comment if the four men arrested in the raids conducted in Sydney had any direct links to the Islamic State or if they had been on any terrorism watchlists.