Tens of thousands of airline passengers are still grounded

Air France cabin-crew strike is adding to the confusion

Tens of thousands of airline passengers are still grounded after the second-busiest airport in France closed for hours following an attack on an army patrol that ended with the death of the lone perpetrator.

Orly airport, on the south side of Paris, went into lockdown immediately after the incident at about 8.30am local time. Passengers on aircraft that had just arrived were obliged to remain on board while a security sweep took place.

Departing passengers who had checked in luggage but whose flights were were among the hundreds cancelled were obliged to wait around for hours to reclaim their bags.

Intending travellers who had not yet reached the airport were warned: “Ongoing special operation by the police at Paris-Orly. Please do not come to the airport.”

With no further arrivals permitted at Orly, dozens of flights were diverted to Charles de Gaulle airport – adding pressure to the facilities at France’s busiest airport.

Air France told passengers booked to travel to or from Orly: “We recommend you to change your reservation. You can postpone your trip at no extra cost until 28 March 2017. You may also choose to cancel your journey. In this case, you will be entitled to a non-refundable voucher valid 1 year.”

To complicate the picture, Air France cabin crew have just begun a three-day strike. The airline aims to operate all its long-haul flights during the dispute, as well as 90 per cent of medium-haul services and 85 per cent of domestic flights. However, even on the flights which are operating, some passengers may be offloaded because of what Air France calls “a reduced crew composition”.

Flights from Orly resumed shortly before 3pm local time. One of the first departures was British Airways flight 333 to Heathrow. It had been due to leave at 10.30am but finally took off after 3pm. Another pair of BA flights were cancelled altogether.

Orly airport officials said a phone line had been established for a “psychological unit … to support passengers close to the terminals”; the number, in France, is 0811 000 694.

Even though no passengers or staff were killed in the incident, it will re-ignite the complex debate about security at airports. On 22 March, families of the victims of the 2016 attacks in Brussels will mark the first anniversary of the suicide bombings which killed 32 people – many of them in the check-in area of the city’s airport.

At most airports in Europe and worldwide, the security focus is squarely on preventing weapons and explosives being taken “airside" by terrorists with the intention of downing an aircraft. There are no controls about who enters the “landside” area of departures where check-in is located, or the area for greeting arriving passengers.

The tourist industry in Paris will lament another incident that reinforces the notion that visitors to the city are at risk. Since the attacks of 13 November 2015 in which 130 people died, the capital’s hotels, restaurants and attractions have been significantly less busy than normal. 

The current Foreign Office advice for France warns: “There is a high threat from terrorism. 

“Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures.”

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