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Australian travellers have faced major delays at airports after security measures were ramped up following the discovery of an alleged terror plot involving a plane.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said authorities uncovered and disrupted a terror plot to bring down an aircraft using an “improvised device”.
International and domestic passengers have been advised to allow extra time for screening and to limit their carry-on and checked baggage, but there have been no official changes to baggage restrictions.
Transport Minister Darren Chester said additional security measures had been put in place at all major Australian airports in coordination with counter terrorism raids in Sydney over the weekend.
“Some of these measures will be obvious to the travelling public, other will not. The increased measures will include additional checks of cabin and checked baggage,” Mr Chester said.
At Adelaide and Sydney airports, some passengers reported delays of up to 90 minutes before passing through security.
ABC journalist Ewan Gilbert was at Sydney’s international terminal on Sunday morning and said the effects of additional security measures were noticeable even before reaching the terminal building.
“Police on motorbikes are slowly patrolling up and down the long queues of cars, peering into every window,” he said.
“Once inside the terminal it’s certainly busy at the check-in desks, but it’s once you get through to security that the authorities are warning to again expect long waits.”
One overseas traveller who spoke to the ABC was unaware of the Sydney terrorism raids, but said he had gone through some extra checks.
When told the reason for the increased security and asked if it worried him, he replied “it concerns us, but we won’t stop for it”.
Other travellers said they were concerned by the alleged plot, but put their faith in officials.
“Absolutely we’re concerned but we’re hoping that they’ve got them and ASIO and the Federal Police keep up the exceptional work they’re doing,” one passenger said.
“They caught the people who they thought were going to do it so it’s good now, I guess,” another passenger said.
In Adelaide, tertiary student Liam Thompson said people waited in long queues just to reach the designated screening areas.
All passengers are being required to remove their jackets during the screening process and he described hearing more frequent public announcements and heightened police presence.
‘Bomb checks at the front door’
While it appeared to be business as usual at Brisbane Airport this morning, passengers on inbound flights said they had noticed increased security measures.
Jacob Pickering got off a flight from Sydney and said he was delayed by up to an hour because of explosives checks.
“They were checking every three to four to five bags. [We were] probably there 45 minutes to an hour to get through check-in to get to the plane,” he said.
Marilyn Marsh-Booth arrived in Brisbane from Cairns on Sunday morning, and said every third person checking in to the flight was targeted.
“There were guys coming up to random people in the queue and getting them to check inside their bags,” she said.
“This was quite different. Every third or fourth person which was quite a lot.”
Nicole Burns flew the same route and said the extra security was immediately noticeable.
“When we entered Cairns airport this morning, the bomb checks were at the front door, so we had to get checked before we even entered the airport,” she said.
Margaret Rowe, who had returned from an overseas trip to Melbourne on Sunday, said queues to enter departures security screening at the domestic terminal “were amazingly long” and took 30 minutes to go through.
“However, the security procedures were no more intensive than usual and two of the security bag/body scanning stations were not being used,” she said.
“I didn’t sense any increased diligence in screening.”
At the X-ray point where carry-on luggage is screened, it appeared two staff members were viewing the screen before the luggage was passed back to the passenger.
At the Virgin terminal, there was a makeshift desk set up for an explosives check at the bag drop point.
Travellers were told to arrive at terminals at least two hours before flights to allow ample time for screening.
A regular police presence was in place at Hobart Airport with the addition of a detection dog named Cassie.
Tasmania Police said it had taken measures to increase security at the state’s principal airports in response to the counter-terrorism investigation in Sydney.
“Cassie is a detection dog so she will cover all baggage and passengers that we screen her over and heaven forbid there is anything untoward, she will let me know and we will take it from there as per normal protocols,” Senior Constable Will Flynn said.
Australian Federal Police withdrew its presence from Tasmanian airports in 2014 following budget cuts.
‘You’re never really safe anywhere’
Heightened security at Perth Airport did not appear to be causing major delays.
Traveller Amy Kalantary said the airport seemed to have the situation under control.
“A little bit nervous but I guess you’re never really safe anywhere these days,” she said.
Travellers at Darwin airport said they were happy to deal with extra security if it meant getting home in “one piece”.
“It’s the best thing for everyone’s safety. One, two, three hours — it doesn’t matter as long as we get to our destination safely,” one passenger said.
“That’s the most important thing as far as we’re concerned.”
Passengers vent frustration
Virgin Airlines and its budget subsidiary Tigerair released a statement confirming additional security measures were in place at airports, and urging travellers not to be alarmed.
“As the measures place an additional burden on the screening system, it may take a little longer than usual to get through the process,” it said.
A Qantas Group spokesperson — representing Qantas and Jetstar — said it was working closely with the Government and airport partners to implement the measures.
“Australia has very strong safeguards in place at its airports; these changes are about making them even stronger,” the spokesperson said.
Tigerair and Virgin were among the first airlines to issue travel alerts to passengers but for some it was too late to beat the long queues at the airport.
One Melbourne couple received a text message only three hours prior to their flight advising them to arrive earlier.
“We live two hours out of Melbourne and at 8:00am this morning we got a text message saying arrive two hours earlier instead of one,” the woman said.
“Well, that was impossible for us.”
Passengers took to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the delays caused by the new measures.