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Telecoms fail in UK takes down passport scanners in Australia

Airport chaos as check-in counters revert to archaic manual processes

By Simon Sharwood, 22 May 2017

Updated International airline passengers in Australia, New Zealand and other nations have been told that problems processing passports at airports today were caused by a telecoms failure in the United Kingdom.

Passengers started to complain of slow check-ins and long queues early Monday, Australian time. Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection told The Register the problem was attributable to “an external system outage with the Society International Telecommunications Aeronautiques (SITA) system.”

El Reg's Australian tentacle therefore got on the blower to SITA, which ignored us for hours before eventually sending a canned statement to the effect that “We experienced a network connectivity issue which resulted in systems provided for border control being disrupted between 21:19 GMT and 00:09 GMT.”

The incident was treated “with the utmost urgency and our Major Incident Management Process has been triggered”.

SITA's teams now say the problem was “a network connectivity issue.”

“This was caused by a major telecom failure in the UK of a top provider to our datacenter. In response, we implemented an alternative communications link and resumed services.”

The company is at pains to point out “this incident was not due to a cyber attack.”

The Register has searched for reports of similar outages elsewhere and at the time of writing can't find any. Which raises the questions: why on Earth are users in Australia and New Zealand dependent on telecoms in the UK, and does antipodean passport and travel data pass outside local jurisdictions, which sounds a bit naughty!

The Register will chase those matters and update readers if new information comes to hand. ®

Updated to add: SITA now tells us that "The outage did affect other countries but due to the timing of the day/flights unfortunately Australia and New Zealand passengers were most affected."

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