‘Absolute chaos’: Inside the queue debacle at Sydney Airport

There have been long queues at Melbourne and Sydney airports in recent days.

There have been long queues at Melbourne and Sydney airports in recent days. Photo: AAP

Travellers have described scenes of “absolute chaos” at Sydney Airport as thousands of flyers face hours-long delays at security checkpoints, forcing many frustrated customers to queue outside in the rain.

Videos of seemingly-endless queues at the airport flooded social media on Friday, with airlines scrambling to fill their Easter flights on schedule.

Sydney Airport is now facing a barrage of criticism over the scenes, with chief executive Geoff Culbert blaming a “perfect storm” of travel delays.

One expert said the situation is likely to get even worse in coming days, amid a massive surge in Australians travelling over the Easter holidays.

The New Daily spoke to several travellers who braved the long queues.

Software engineer Tristan Davey waited 90 minutes to pass security for a flight to Brisbane on Friday, despite being moved to the  “express” line.

He said the airport has descended into “absolute chaos”, with huge lines stretching across multiple terminals and outside despite heavy rain.

“It was a frustrating experience,” Mr Davey told The New Daily.

“Airport staff were trying their hardest, but did not have the facilities to keep the lines controlled and ordered.”

Mr Davey said the issue was made worse by “no clear communication” between airport and airline staff trying to get passengers’ security checks expedited to make sure they made their flights.

Other customers took to social media, complaining they had missed their flights entirely.

Passengers fend for themselves

Some travellers were forced to fend for themselves as the queues grew.

NSW shadow minister for water, housing, and homelessness Rose Jackson arrived an hour early for her Friday 2:15pm flight to Merimbula.

She said the airport was so chaotic it took 10 minutes to find the end of the security queue, which had snaked outside of Terminal 2.

“No one even seemed to know where the queue started,” she told TND.

When she found herself stuck in the queue with 40 minutes until her boarding time, she said staff were “lovely, but had no information”.

With no solution, Ms Jackson and another women she befriended in the queue decided “stuff this” and asked other travellers to let them cut in.

“Full credit to other passengers, everyone was supporting each other,” she said.

“We literally bolted across the airport – people were clapping us.”

‘Perfect storm’

Travellers, many of whom ended up missing their flights, have largely blamed Sydney Airport for the delays, with several security lines closed.

Both Ms Jackson and Mr Davey said understaffing was a “huge” issue.

Mr Davey said closed security lines and “outdated” x-ray machines that require travellers to take their electronics out of their bags slowed lines.

Mr Culbert has apologised to passengers over the delays, saying the airport has faced a “perfect storm” with surging Easter travel demand and close contact rules making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport.

Although Sydney Airport appears to have been caught off-guard by the influx of travellers, Finder travel expert Angus Kidman said days leading up to Easter were always the busiest for domestic air-travel pre-COVID.

Discounted tickets with cut-off dates before Easter have heightened the demand, he said.

“I don’t want to make excuses for Sydney Airport, but I do think there are probably some factors outside its control,” he said.

Data from Roy Morgan and the Australian Retailers Association shows Australians are heading on holidays in droves this Easter, with $7.1 billion set to be spent on vacations over the next few weeks.

Expedia has also tracked a huge rise in demand for international travel over Easter, particularly for destinations such as Singapore, Bali, Malaysia and New Zealand.

Mr Kidman said the combination of pent-up demand for travel following the pandemic, the beginning of school holidays and people looking to take advantage of the public holidays following the Easter period, is contributing to the elevated numbers of travellers.

Since the busiest day for travel over the Easter period is typically the Wednesday before Good Friday, Mr Kidman said he suspects travellers going through Sydney Airport won’t see any improvement until the holiday period is over.

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