By Monday things had just about returned to normal at Munich Airport. Around 250 people spent the night sleeping on camp beds and two flights were cancelled.
It was a far cry from the previous evening, when at least 2,000 people spent the night sleeping on benches and camp beds or in airport lounges.
While the scenes at Germany’s second largest airport might look like the effects of major industrial action, or even a humanitarian crisis, the trigger was far more humble – a cosmetics bag.
A passenger at Terminal Two was sent back through security on Saturday morning after the personnel there noticed a liquid in her cosmetics bag. When she came back after checking the bag in, she passed back through security without undergoing a body check. By the time the security team realized their mistake the woman was out of sight.
No precaution was spared in the aftermath. Federal police evacuated two departure halls, leading to 330 flights being cancelled. The timing couldn’t have been worst. Bang in the middle in the summer holiday season, some 31,000 passengers were told that their flight had been cancelled altogether or had been seriously delayed.
On Monday, the state government in Bavaria announced that it had suspended three members of the state-owned security company which handles airport security, pending an investigation.
Authorities at the airport apparently believe that the woman herself cannot be blamed for the mess. By the time the alarm was raised, the 40-year-old was sitting on her plane, blissfully unaware of the carnage she had wrought.
“From what we have learned so far about the incident, we don’t envision taking legal action against the passenger,” an airport spokeswoman said.
Instead, Bavarian authorities suspect that a slip up on the part of the security personnel is responsible. One employee was reportedly involved in a conversation with colleagues and failed to notice as the woman walked through without passing under the body scanner.
The federal police have justified the evacuation, claiming that European law compels them to evacuate and search an area of an airport if they cannot rule out that a risk to flight safety might exist.
But the evacuation will badly hit the pockets of both the airport and passengers.
Munich Airport CEO Michael Kerkloh predicted on Monday that the costs to the airport would accumulate to between one and four million euros. Most of the losses are due to the airport not charging departure and landing fees during the hours-long hold-up on Saturday.
According to legal experts, passengers who were left in the lurch by the mishap also have no right to compensation. Ernst Führich, an expert in traveller’s rights, said that “passengers won’t get any compensation.”
Führich explained that airlines were not obligated to compensate passengers for delayed or cancelled flights when the cause is out of their control. Because the security is run by the state, the airlines were not able to influence events and thus bear no responsibility, he added.
While the scale of the fallout at Munich Airport was unusual, this is not the first time that a passenger slipping through security has caused disruptions at German airports. Two years ago a woman walked unnoticed through the security area of Frankfurt airport, leading to a partial evacuation of the terminal.
In 2015 Cologne/Bonn airport was evacuated on more than one occasion after a similar slip up at its much-criticized security area.