The day started like any other, a note was pushed through the door of the hotel room which advised that our car would pick us up earlier than planned.
Nothing unusual with that, it occasionally happens if there are problems with the roads. Our driver got us to the airport on time. The automated check-in machines weren’t working.
We waited about 30 minutes for our desk to open and were first in the queue, checked our bags in, obtained our boarding cards and then all that remained was, to simply get through airport security to reach the goal of a coffee shop and duty free on the other side. We had just over two hours to move 25 ft…
I can smell my much needed caffeine hit! What could possibly go wrong?
Airport security was already in chaos, Literally hundreds of travellers all pushing in what can be described as a mob, to the only one of six open border control check points.
Suddenly someone appeared shouting in Hungarian indicating everyone to move back. Vans with police and dogs arrived, eventually an announcement was made on the Tannoy asking everyone to evacuate the area for security reasons. There was no announcement to say whether the risk/threat was over, but judging by the mobbing crowd everyone was trying to get through the only open check point. We guess we should join them…
At this point what little order the airport had, broke down into complete chaos. It was clear that beyond the passport control checkpoint, nobody was moving. Hundreds of people were stuck in no-mans land (ever see that film with Tom Hanks?). People in suits were blatantly trying to push ahead of the mob causing more friction, everyone who’s gate was closing within an hour was rushing forward. All security guards were simply not letting anyone through.
I asked one of the security guards what was happening, I was surprised to be met with hostility and the following terse and only response “We don’t have to tell you anything.”
The mob started chanting, cheering and clapping, security resolute in not letting anyone through and a steady backlog of new passengers arriving every minute. At this point it wasn’t for any apparent security concern, but sheer incompetence. It was getting rather hot and sweaty for everyone trapped, and tempers were starting to fray. Absolutely no information from the airport or the airlines as to what was happening, whether flights would be delayed because of the airports clear inability to communicate or organise the crowds.
By this stage it took more than an hour to move 6 ft to get through passport control, once through it was taking more than an hour to get through screening. All passengers were anxious that they weren’t going to make their flights as gates were closing.
There were six security search points open, however as people tried to move to shorter queues, the airport staff sent everyone back and deliberately closed those points, causing more annoyance and delays with passengers.
It appeared that around 50% of passengers were being searched, my flight bag being one of them! Inside my camera bag had attracted attention, bearing in mind that I travel quite extensively and have been through various airport controls with my equipment, it appeared that my Rocket Blower (Which any photographer can tell you that it’s used for blowing dust of lenses and sensors.) was the cause of concern! Eventually they let me through, making it to the gate as it was closing.
Consequently I was extremely hot, sweaty, caffeine free and water free (As you can not take liquid through a checkpoint). I talked to the flight crew about the delays and my concern that passengers may get stranded, thankfully they stated that they would wait for all passengers who had checked in to board before leaving.
It would have been better all round if the airlines or the airport had made this announcement and kept passengers informed as to what was going on. Even better, to have a plan in place to deal with backlogs of this nature. Upon enquiry it appears that this experience is not an isolated incident/experience.
Full marks to the airlines for waiting for passengers trapped through no fault of their own for not making it through border control!