More than 1,500 Southwest Airlines passengers were evacuated yesterday from a pier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport because of what airline officials described as a faulty X-ray machine at a security checkpoint.
Five flights were grounded during a security sweep that lasted nearly two hours, and the malfunctioning screening device was shut down.
"The good news is that a [security] breach did not occur," said Steve Sisneros, district marketing manager for Southwest, BWI's largest carrier. Argenbright Security Inc. staffs the security checkpoints for Southwest.
Federal Aviation Administration officials ordered the evacuation of Pier B at 11:30 a.m. because of a possible security violation detected by a device that X-rays carry-on luggage, airline officials said.
The pier is used exclusively by Southwest, which operates 137 flights daily from BWI.
Law enforcement authorities, including the Maryland National Guard and Maryland Transportation Authority Police, conducted a sweep of the concourse with bomb-sniffing dogs. The pier reopened at 1:16 p.m., and Southwest began screening passengers on the five affected flights a second time.
Sisneros said he didn't know how many additional Southwest flights were delayed by the search.
The disruption created a long line of Southwest passengers that stretched the length of the airport terminal, but most travelers remained calm throughout the inconvenience.
"People have been very patient," said Martin Weissman, who was on his way to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Very few people have cut in."
During the delay, Southwest employees walked through the airport terminal, answering questions from passengers about rescheduled flight times.
"I think it's very well-arranged; there's no panic," said Bette Erickson, who had just arrived at BWI on a flight from Manchester, N.H., when she heard an announcement over the public address system to evacuate the area.
As passengers stood in line, Southwest employees came by offering sodas, water and snacks. "It's the kind of situation where if you don't laugh, you'll cry," said Sal Seminara, who was headed for Chicago.
Kate Shea held her 9-month- old daughter, Sarah, while her husband, Tom, chased Sarah's 2-year-old sister, Emily. The family was trying to get to Tampa, Fla.
"We're feeding them, coloring, walking them around, whatever we can occupy them with," she said.
Stuart and Frances Walker of Annapolis sat in the small-scale blue airplane meant to amuse children in the airport observation deck.
"We're having fun playing, `The airplane's not taking off,'" Frances Walker said. "We tell the little people that we're in charge and no tickets are necessary."