Airport Security in France: A Story from a (Fortunately) Bygone Era

October 26, 2010By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
airport

Gone are the days when a traveler could sneak by security on the way in and customs on the way out.

Like all Paris residents, I think of Charles de Gaulle Airport as being part of the city, a kind of remote overcrowded neighborhood with bad restaurants connected to Montmartre by a perpetual traffic jam. The last time I went to Roissy, as the French call it, was not actually to take a flight; I had to go out to formally identify a friend arriving from the States who had been detained by immigration (the authorities suspected him of traveling under a false identity because he calls himself “Doctor” but doesn’t actually have a doctorate in anything).

I thought this was petty in the extreme, but it started me thinking about how airport security has, for well-known reasons, changed over the years. Here’s an example: back in about 1986, after a flight from Chicago, I was walking around that circular corridor on the upper Arrivals level of Terminal 1 (the doughnut-shaped building), looking for the passport checkpoint with the shortest line, when I happened to notice, among the latticework of escalators coming up from the Departures level, one going down. Since I only had a carry-on bag and didn’t need to stay on the upper floor for baggage claim, I decided to take it. Forty seconds later I was outside the terminal waiting for the bus, having completely bypassed both immigration and customs. (Note to drug smugglers, terrorists and queue jumpers: you can’t do this any more. Just forget about it.)

Another example: once in the Nineties I was at Charles de Gaulle to get a flight to Rome. In front of me at the security check for my concourse was a tall, burly gentleman wearing thick multiple layers of clothes and carrying an infant in one of those elaborate baby backpacks with so many straps and buckles and metal clasps it probably weighed more than the kid. He was also carrying an attaché case, which he dutifully laid on the conveyor belt to the X-ray chamber, or whatever that thing is, before walking through the metal detector. Which lit up like the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s and beeped like the Périphérique at rush hour.

Whereupon the guy started gesticulating madly over his shoulder and yelling, “It’s the baby! It’s the baby!! It’s the baby!!! It’s the baby!!!!” as he grabbed up his attaché case and strode briskly away. And here’s what the security staff did: Nothing. Rien. Sweet Fanny Ardant.

I considered asking them why they didn’t recheck him, decided that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle they were likely to give me for telling them how to do their jobs, and went to my gate, making a mental note to check if the proud father, or kidnapper, was on my plane. I made it to Italy in one piece, and there were no bombings or hijackings that day, so I guess it really was: The Baby!!!!!

© 2010 Paris Update

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