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How abandoned luggage causes havoc at Paris airports
Photo: AFP

How abandoned luggage causes havoc at Paris airports

Ben McPartland · 5 Oct 2016, 11:24

Published: 05 Oct 2016 11:24 GMT+02:00

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Anyone who regularly passes through one of Paris's two main airports will likely have seen an area cordoned off by soldiers or border police due to a suspicious or unattended luggage.

New figures released this week laid bare the extent of the problem.

Last year specialist bomb squad teams were called out 2,200 times at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports – that equates to around six times a day, according to figures obtained by LCI media.

The figure of 2,200 is up 37.5 percent on the 1,600 interventions by the bomb squad in 2014. And airport officials say the number of interventions will increase even further in 2016 given the rate is on the up.

Charles de Gaulle airport was worst hit last year with some 1,850 interventions by the bomb squad, whereas Orly saw 348 checks.

Each time an unattended bag is spotted it takes almost an hour before the all clear is given.

The time taken to set up a perimeter and for the bomb squad to arrive and carry out the necessary checks often causes delays and disruption to passengers, as well as raising their fears at a time of heightened terror alert.

Once a bag is identified the process would normally see it x-rayed to find out if it contains anything suspicious. If the contents cannot be verified it will be destroyed in a controlled explosion, although this has only happened 15 times last year. No bag was found to contain any explosives.

So who is to blame for all this disruption?

Well mainly the passengers.

For a start members of the public are being far more vigilant, given the heightened terror threat and are far more likely to alert airport staff to abandoned baggage than before.

This is a habit that is applauded by police.

“The public need to continue to alert us. But at the same time we need make them more aware to avoid them forgetting their suitcases,” a police source told LCI.

But police have also pointed out that passengers are deliberately abandoning their luggage, in most cases because they don’t want to pay the extra costs charged by airlines of checking in it.

It seems they would rather leave their belongings behind than pay an extra fee.

Many of these bags are abandoned near the check-in desks, explaining why most bomb squad interventions happen before passengers have passed through security.

Story continues below…

Police union official Jean-Yann William, who works at Charles-de Gaulle airport said: “These interventions could be easily avoided if airlines were more vigilant."

He would also like to see authorities impose fines on passengers who deliberately leave their luggage behind. A dissuasive move that has recently been brought in by French rail operators SNCF, which also has to deal with scores of alerts over suspicious and unattended bags at rail stations.

Aeroports de Paris, which runs Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, recently demanded that French border police try to cut the time it takes the bomb squad to intervene and give the all clear.

They also asked the border police to try to improve the time it takes for passengers to get through passport control, which if anyone has been through Charles de Gaulle in recent months knows can be lengthy wait.

But in the meantime the pubic have a role to play.

Don’t leave your bag unattended, make sure you know exactly how much you can take on board before travelling to avoid the temptation to dump a bag at the airport and continue to alert authorities of any suspicious bags.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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