The Post looks into the incident and what we can learn from it.
A woman was reportedly able to board Hong Kong-bound flight CX521 without a boarding pass last Thursday at Narita International Airport in Tokyo.
Cabin crew found a female passenger constantly switching seats and she was unable to show her passport and boarding pass, according to press reports.
Cathay said the flight did not take off with the woman on board, and that staff called Japanese police, who took her into custody. The flight departed about an hour late.
What are pre-boarding procedures?
Airports have security protocols, while ground staff, security guards and other support crew have clear guidelines.
After checking in for a flight, passengers’ travel documents and boarding passes are typically inspected before they can enter the restricted area where another security check to scan hand luggage takes place.
Documents are also checked at the immigration counter. Passengers are typically advised to arrive at boarding gates at least 30 minutes before their flight is scheduled to depart.
At the boarding gate, ground staff once again check passports and boarding passes before passengers board the aircraft.
Yusof, the analyst, said ground staff who checked boarding passes at the gate would be Cathay employees.
“Before they scan your boarding pass, they look at your passport and look at you and then they let you through,” he said. “Even if it’s in business class they will do that.”
Yusof added that Cathay was likely to investigate the incident.
“It is down to human error,” he said. “Something like this should never have happened for an airline like Cathay … this would happen to a second- or third-tier airline, you’d expect that, but not with Cathay.”
Any other potential issues?
A Cathay employee told the Post that in the past, cabin crew on a flight would also check boarding passes at the aircraft door but “this procedure has been lifted for months”.
The cabin crew member, who asked to remain anonymous, said ground staff scanned boarding passes at the gate and passengers could then proceed to the aircraft. Technically no further check was needed unless there was an argument between passengers over seats, over a potential double booking, for example.
“The loophole in my opinion is not checking at the aircraft door any more,” he said.
Yusof said there were at least “two levels of failure here”, with passengers going through two other passport and boarding pass checks before arriving at the gate.
Although huge, Narita is also known to be an efficient airport. For the incident to occur in “Tokyo is another mystery”, he said.
However, Yusof said it was an airline’s responsibility to do the necessary checks at gates for passengers boarding their aircraft.
In Hong Kong, e-boarding gates use facial recognition for passengers aged 11 or above.
What happens now?
Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department told Cathay on Sunday to investigate the incident and submit a report.
Cathay also apologised to passengers for the flight delay and the inconvenience caused by the incident.
Any previous security breaches at Hong Kong airport?
Several incidents occurred in 2016 – including one with shades of the Narita case.
That April, a woman managed to pass through three security checks without a boarding pass or a passport before being intercepted at a far-flung boarding gate of Hong Kong International Airport.
In two incidents that year, transit passengers flying with Hong Kong Airlines were able to open doors to air bridges in restricted areas, which should have been sealed.
In another high-profile incident, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying was accused of pressuring airport staff to deliver his daughter’s bag from a non-restricted area to the closed-off departure zone in April 2016. Both the Airport Authority and Leung denied any security breach.
In 2018, five Singapore Airlines crew entered a restricted zone without security clearance, resulting in a flight to the city state being delayed for nearly three hours.