How A Cosmetics Bag Cancelled 330 Flights At Munich Airport

Filed Under: Lufthansa, Security/TSA

If you’ve ever wondered just how seriously world class airports take security, here is an amazing example.

Last Saturday, a 40 year old female passenger was passing through security at Munich Airport, the second busiest in Germany (behind Frankfurt). Security found liquids in the cosmetics bag in her hand luggage that did not meet LAG restrictions, so the passenger elected to return to check-in, so she could check her hand luggage, rather than disposing of the liquids.

She then returned to security 15 minutes later, and managed to walk through without being properly screened. This appears to be the fault of Munich Airport security more than the passenger, as there are reports the security officers were too busy chatting with each other to notice her.

She disappeared from sight before security realised what had happened and could not be located. She actually made it all the way on to her flight.

Once airport management realised what had happened, all flights leaving the airport were grounded and the entire Terminal 2 and satellite building was evacuated, meaning every single passenger who had already passed through security had to exit the sterile area at the same time, and only once every single person had been cleared, and the area checked, could any passengers then proceed through security to their flights.

This occurred on:

  • a Saturday morning, which was
  • the first day of school holidays,
  • in the middle of summer,
  • at one of Europe’s busiest airports.

So you can probably guess the kind of flow on effects this had to flights and travel plans.

Passengers at Munich Airport last Saturday waiting for security to reopen (Source: EuroNews)

31,000 passengers were informed that their flights were either delayed or cancelled, as passengers simply couldn’t get to their planes for the planes to take off. 330 flights were cancelled on Saturday.

Even though this happened early on Saturday morning, 2,000 passengers spent the night sleeping at the airport, because their flights had not yet departed.

Mattresses are brought in to Munich airport for stranded passengers on Saturday night (Source: DPA)

Yesterday, the airport operators suspended three security staff, presumably those who were operating the security check-point and had allowed the woman to pass through unchecked.

The incident is expected to cost the airport and affected airlines (in particular Lufthansa) in excess of €1 million ($1.16 million). This actually seems fairly low considering the number of flights and passengers affected.

The female passenger is unlikely to be charged.

Bottom line

I would hate to ever be waiting in a lounge or gate, and hear the dreaded announcement that an entire terminal was being evacuated because one person had not been screened properly, because nothing would be resolved quickly in a situation like this.

But it does occasionally happen around the world.

The amount of time each passenger would be standing in line waiting to go back through security would be immense and incredibly frustrating. But it is at least reassuring that absolutely no exceptions are taken to security in places like Munich, regardless of the cost to airlines or delays to passengers.

Have you ever been evacuated from an airport terminal?

  1. A mark of ineptitude. I hope the airport authorities compensate each passenger for time lost and for expenses incurred, including all lost cost for vacation lodging, auto rentals, etc.

  2. If they took security seriously, this entire clusterf*ck would never have happened to begin with.

    This is one of the main drawbacks of the “central search” security model as opposed to a dispersed screening model.

    CCTV should have allowed them to track contact points and possible contamination hotspots to avoid having to evacuate the terminal. Unless of course, the CCTV also had blind spots in which case they have another problem.

    In no way does this reflect positively on Munich airport.

  3. Happened to me at Canberra airport once. Luckily only took like 20 minutes to get back through security, but the siren they used to announce was definitely not to overhear. Was just happy its wasnt a fire alarm or worse.

  4. The real problem is that women who fly business class now have to check in their make up instead of keeping it in their carry on. It’s indirect discrimination against women as women typically wear make up for work.

    If you want an example of how damaging to your company’s reputation it is you should try walking out of the arrival halls with the rest of those in economy to the knowing smirk of a driver sent to pick you up, thinking you can’t afford business class. After all the male business class people came through 30 mins earlier….

  5. So it was the cosmetics bag, and not the inattention of the screening officers, that caused the 330 flight cancellations?

  6. @ MC – its my understanding that the woman thought she had already been screened before checking in the cosmetics bag hence why she breezed through without being checked the second time. Of course security should have stopped her.

  7. Munich Airport ground staff are consistently incompetent. Hopefully this comes as a reality check of sorts for them.

  8. @James @MC. Yes security should have checked the second time. But this slip up wouldn’t have occurred if she was allowed to keep he make up in her carry on in the first place. Good example of the Swiss Cheese model of accident causation.

  9. Flew out of DXB without passing security once thanks to the lassiez fairre security guards.

  10. I wish this was how all the democracies treated all its citizens. There was a program on NPR in the USA that proved that health outcomes for poor people are worse than for rich people. That sounds like some third world country shit.

    This security kabuki theater would be believable if governments took care of all of their citizens. In the USA they are unwilling (if you are a white Republican Male) or unable to do this. All this fake concern is just a theatre because they are willing to sacrifice human lives in other settings.

  11. Vienna airport is not very strict with rules. I was unlucky to get stuck behind passengers who don’t fly often and were not aware that they can’t take their standard cosmetic bags through screening. They started unpacking them and security person told them to just put them in a tray, without putting everything in special bags. Some items were bigger than 100ml. What’s the point of rules?

    And at Gatwick they asked me to throw away my small cream because 1l bag wasn’t fully sealing with it. At the same time I smuggled number of small liquids in backpack because I forgot about them.

  12. Landed at LAX once to get a connecting flight. They had just evacuated the terminal when arrived. We had to disembark down a staircase and then were herded through a door and found ourselves on the road in front of the terminal building. No announcements and a massive crowd of people. Took for ever to get back through security and sort things out.

  13. There was one phrase in the article that raises dispute among my friends:

    “She then returned to security 15 minutes later, and managed to walk through without being properly screened.”

    The lady, according to DW, hasn’t been screened, which is not “without being properly screened”.

  14. @mike Eu 261 isn’t just about compensation. The answer is only right of care certainly not cash comp as it’s not the airlines fault Hopefully Lufthansa will recoup their losses from security and send them a bill

  15. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the entire terminal had to be evacuated. This is more about maintaining an illusion of security than actually making things more secure. This could have easily been handled much more effectively and efficiently.

  16. @ross: That’s rather sexist of yours. What makes you think that men don’t need toiletries. Ever heard of shaving cream, after-shave, etc.? Not to mention that some men apply make-up…

    BTW: After any longer flight (whether in the cargo bay, economy, premium economy, business or first), you’ll stink. Sitting several hours in recirculated farts tends to do that to you.

  17. @Ross – I’m really puzzled by your statement, “The real problem is that women who fly business class now have to check in their makeup instead of keeping it in their carry on.”

    I fly business or first class every flight, several times a year and through several international airports and I have NEVER previously been allowed to bypass security regulations on liquids or anything else because of my fare class. And I carry make up on every single flight. My liquids and powders do not exceed the 3 ounce limits that every other passenger must abide by.

  18. In my observation, women are better prepared than men at security checkpoints: most of their stuff is in a handbag already and more or less organised. It’s mostly men who are scrabbling around for keys and coins and getting the liquids arranged.

  19. In July 2017, Terminal 5 at JFK had to be evacuated because of – I kid you not – a grease fire at Panda Express. I ended up missing my flight to LA, got on the next one, missed my connection to Sydney, ended up getting stranded in LA for 2 days (which Delta did not compensate me for), and missed my first day of work in Sydney.

    I also was almost not allowed to pass through security in LHR because my <100mL bottle of moisturizer didn't have a visible size marking. They let me go after a fight when they saw I was 1) combative and 2) very vain.

  20. “But it is at least reassuring that absolutely no exceptions are taken to security in places like Munich…”

    Uh, no, it is not reassuring at all that security screening policies lack intelligence and flexibility, and that one tiny mistake can ruin thousands of people’s vacations and business trips.

    The assumption that once the woman was screened “properly”, she posed less of a risk than after wandering through the checkpoint is just ludicrous. Screeners miss most prohibited items, as Lucky pointed out a few days ago. So how is it better to disrupt an entire airport full of passengers than to just find the woman, pat her down, question her, and let the world go on normally?

    There is a word for this: asinine.

  21. @Paolo
    ” In my observation, women are better prepared than men at security checkpoints: most of their stuff is in a handbag already and more or less organised.”
    I wish my fiancee handbag was more or less organized. It is a black hole, stuff goes in and disappear forever. There could be firearms and body parts that she ins’t aware of.

  22. This is a result of the “out of an abundance of caution” mindset which excuses managers from analyzing the situation and making an informed decision

  23. @Sung
    Your wife isn’t the only one. I once moved and it was a full two weeks later that I finally found the tv remote. In my purse!

  24. Being involved with one cancelled flight is enough, Let alone a whole airport as big as Munich, It must of been complete hell.
    I was once on a cancelled Cathay flight out of Perth and because we had cleared immigration they let us straight out doors without any immigration matters so the next day when we came back to fly, the Passport scanners couldnt be used because technically on their system we were out of the country. So we had to face to face the immigration officals, no big deal but I couldn’t imagine a nightmare like at Munich on a saturday morning

  25. My experience with MUC security personnel has been nothing but negative in all my trips through that airport. Rude, arrogant, lacking in any interpersonal skills. I hope they all get a good kick up the rear end.

  26. I was flying through Munich on Saturday from MAD to SFO. I was already in the lounge before Lufthansa alerted me that the flight to MUC was cancelled. Way too late in the morning to try and get another flight to the US. A cluster for sure.

  27. UKReader – The liquids rule is demonstrably absurd, irrational and senseless. I wouldn’t remotely worry that it wasn’t enforced.

    I accidently took a 1L carton of juice through Madrid security a few years ago.

  28. Apparently they also forced re-screening of all checked luggage too. I arrived at BEG on Monday afternoon, and there was a large amount of checked luggage from MUC arriving. Airport workers said there had been no checked luggage from MUC coming in for a couple of days because of “a security issue” and apparently they had finally been allowed onwards. They were tagging, cataloging, and weighing each piece, presumably to then contact the owners.

  29. @Ross – Seriously? Coming out 30 minutes after the business class passengers (um… more like 5 minutes, anyway) with the lowlifes of economy damages the reputation of your company because the DRIVER thinks you can’t afford to fly business? Jesus man… the driver doesn’t give a flying rat’s. His smirk is because you smell, your hair’s a mess, and maybe your fly is down. Nothing to do with what class he thinks you flew, I guarantee you that. What an insecure little snob you must be.

  30. I was one of the many thousands of stranded pasantes at MUC on July 28, 2018. Whoever talks about “security” have not considered the huge risk they put us through: thousands of people standing unable to move, being pushed against each other for over 5 hours. Everyone was sweating, like being on a sauna, extremely hot, not enough air, and on risk of a human avalanche. After we were able to catch another flight,
    me and my group were stranded in Toronto for 2 days.
    8 days later we still haven’t received our luggage and no one (airlines or airports involved) have not been able to find out about our lost bags!
    All because of someones makeup!!

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