Louise Milligan Sydney Airport incident: Security rules may change after ABC journalists 'humiliating' experience

An ABC reporter's "uncomfortable" experience at Sydney airport last week could see rules around clothing removal at Australian airport security screenings changed.

ABC journalist Louise Milligan shared her "creepy" Sydney Airport ordeal on Twitter, where she said she was forced to remove a fitted suit jacket despite telling staff she only had camisole underneath.

"Have never had this happen anywhere. Man in front, in big bulky jumper, not made to change. It was embarrassing, uncomfortable, creepy," she tweeted, eliciting an outpouring of support from other female travellers.

Milligan also claimed "incensed" Qantas staff recounted multiple women complaining of "similar security heavy-handedness this week", with at least one case of a female passenger in tears after being forced to remove her T-shirt.

Among Milligan's online supporters was The Project host Lisa Wilkinson, who said she was subjected to an "embarrassing" and "inappropriate" body search at airport security.

"These new full-body scan machines are a real issue," she tweeted. "The scan showed up the underwire in my bra and zip on my jeans and I had to have a full pat-down in both areas."

In an update earlier this week, Milligan said Sydney Airport had apologised and agreed to take the issue to Federal Transport Minister Catherine King.

"Update: @SydneyAirport reviewed CCTV of me going through security & agree guards didn't give customer service/decency they expect when made me remove fitted jacket & go through in camisole. They'll talk to @CatherineKingMP about whether women removing fitted jackets is necessary," Milligan wrote.


A Sydney Airport spokesperson said that a review of the incident found correct processes and protocols were followed, but there was a "shortfall in terms of our expectations around customer service and communication".

"We're really sorry this occurred and have apologised directly to the person involved. We're working closely with our security contractor on customer service training to make sure we are giving passengers the best possible experience at the airport," the statement read.

A spokesperson for King said the minister was aware of concerns raised regarding airport security screening practices, but would not say if the guidelines were under review.

"Security screening is there to keep us all safe and shouldn't be done in a way that causes distress or anyone to feel uncomfortable," the spokesperson said.

Neil Fergus, CEO of leading international security advice firm Intelligent Risks, said the incident may be a reflection of airports hastily trying to bring the workforce back to levels sufficient for demand.

"I think we can all sympathise to a degree with airports and their security contractors having some problems as they ramp back up to business as usual," Fergus said. "The Department of Home Affairs is supposed to be doing regular inspections to ensure the MTES (methods, techniques and equipment to be used for screening) are being applied appropriately."

Fergus, who has previously led an aviation security screening report for the Australian government, also noted that full-body scanners would clearly show if it was being triggered by something like bra wiring.

"An operator would see that and immediately let the person through. There is no requirement for a secondary inspection," Fergus said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said: "The government expects that all travellers are treated with respect and dignity during the screening process … each airport and screening operator has their own procedures in place to conduct passenger screening in a way that achieves the required security outcomes."

The statement further noted that a frisk search must be conducted by a screening officer of the same gender to the person being screened, only with the consent of the individual, and must include the option to be screened in a private screening area.

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