Monday, August 06, 2012

Newark Liberty International (KEWR), New Jersey: Travelers stranded after airport security breach cancels more than 100 flights

NEWARK — Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport was locked down for three hours Sunday, creating a huge screening backlog that forced the cancellation or delay of more than 165 flights, after officials said a passenger prematurely walked away from a security checkpoint. 

Authorities searched for the female passenger based on a checkpoint surveillance video following the 8:45 a.m. incident said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Port Authority Police.

Local officials of the Transportation Security Administration eventually concluded the woman had boarded a United Airlines flight to Cleveland. But the security agency only arrived at its conclusion after the flight had landed in Cleveland at 10:45 a.m., and authorities were never able to talk to the woman or identify her by name.

"She walked out of the checkpoint area before the screening process was complete," Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Management at Newark will conduct a comprehensive review of the incident and will take appropriate action."

Normal screening operations at Terminal C resumed at about noon. But the lockdown and subsequent screening backlog caused more than 65 departing flights to be delayed, and more than 100 flights to be canceled, said Christen David, a United spokeswoman.

Sunday’s breach is one of the most serious screening incidents to occur at the airport since January 2010, when a Rutgers doctoral student shut down Newark Liberty for several hours and disrupted air traffic worldwide after sneaking through a vacated security post to get one last kiss from his departing girlfriend. That breach was among several high-profile incidents that led to the replacement of Newark’s top TSA official last year. The current federal security director, Donald Drummer, has led a performance crackdown resulting in disciplinary measures against dozens of screeners.

There was one other breach reported at Terminal C Sunday.  At 6:30 a.m., the TSA said operations were suspended in the oversize baggage screening room, after a bag was directed onto the tarmac despite not having been completely screened. Bag screening resumed at 7:19 a.m., the TSA said. But the flagged bag, which was isolated on the tarmac, was not cleared for another two hours, after the Essex County Bomb Squad gave its okay.

Officials said the lockdown forced some flights back to the gate after they had taxied for takeoff, in order for authorities to visually check passengers in their search for the woman who had walked away from the checkpoint.

Hours after screening resumed, hundreds of passengers waited on lines that snaked throughout the crowded terminal. By 7 p.m., however, the lines had disappeared.

W. Scott Becque of Glen Rock, sales and marketing director for the Hilton hotel in Woodcliff Lake, stood on line with several colleagues en route to a Hilton meeting in Houston. They doubted their flight would leave in time for the start of the conference last night.

"Big opening reception, so we’ll have to have that on the plane," Becque joked. "Some people said they had to re-book and not leave again until Tuesday. If that happens, we’ll miss the whole conference."

At 7 p.m., Becque was in Houston, getting ready for the reception.

"I had serious doubts we’d get out of there," he said. "I guess it’s one of the little hiccups to deal with in business travel."
Story and photos:

No comments:

Post a Comment