Today, I am watching the news of the terrorist attack on Brussels airport.
Here is a true story of something that “happened” at Haneda the last time I flew from there.
I was walking along the passageway between the shops, past the baggage security checks, on my way to my gate... and there was a medium-sized suitcase stood all by itself smack in the middle of the corridor.
Whoever owned it was not standing a couple of feet away with his or her eyes on it. I stopped and watched for around 30 seconds but no one returned to pick up the bag. The owner must have been either in the nearest shop or queuing at the food outlet nearby.
The situation made me nervous and angry because in this day and age, no one should ever be separated from their bag by more than a couple of feet or more than a few seconds.
I walked a bit further down the corridor and stopped to watch the situation from there. For around three minutes, a stream of passengers walked along and walked past the suitcase without any concern. The heavy flow of people meant that sometimes people had to suddenly check and divert around the bag.
No one seemed to have the slightest sense that the bag was an obvious security concern. I don’t mean that people looked at it, then apparently reassured themselves that it was beyond the security checks so “must be” alright. I mean no one stopped at all. No one looked, even those who had to swerve around it.
Then the crew of an aircraft (my Air France flight, as it happens) walked past the same bag. Around ten of them.
By this time I had decided to alert someone and I was feeling agitated. Then a member of the airport staff in uniform walked past without looking left or right, determinedly walking straight along. I had a split second to try to see if he was security staff or a cleaner or what but couldn’t see. His badge said JSS, which I have just looked up. It’s security staff. He was gone before I had the chance to stop him.
I was beginning to feel sick with annoyance and worry when I overhead, a few feet away, two American tourists saying (in English) to the Duty Free administration staff that there was a bag that had been there for “about ten minutes”.
I estimate that I had noticed the bag around five minutes before. It would seem the American tourists had possibly seen it for longer than me before they reported it. They commented to me that they couldn’t believe that “everyone was just walking past it” and repeated the security mantra “If you see something, say something”.
The Duty Free staff were at a desk from which they themselves could not see the bag. (They are blameless for not noticing it.) But they seemed bemused at the strange incident of the Americans talking about someone else’s suitcase – and then bemused at my “over-reaction” of angrily repeating this in Japanese.
Of course, it was at this point that the suitcase disappeared, just as the Duty Free staff came out to see it. The owner had picked it up a few seconds before. And I am sure everyone who walked past the bag went on their flights or back home without any memory of the incident at all. (Except me and the young tourist couple.)
So when you wonder how terrorists are able to operate in supposedly safe environments, you might remember that a suitcase can be left unattended in an airport for several minutes without worrying anybody.