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Freshly lost suitcases said thrown out amid airport chaos, as hundreds more pile up

Transportation Minister Michaeli instructs airport managers to probe alleged looting after TV news reports luggage tossed in compactor as staff rummaged for valuables

Abandoned suitcases at Ben Gurion Airport, July 2022 (Courtesy)
Abandoned suitcases at Ben Gurion Airport, July 2022 (Courtesy)

With hundreds of lost suitcases piling up amid recent travel snafus at Ben Gurion Airport, some luggage that became separated from travelers flying abroad has been thrown into the garbage, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.

Some members of the airport staff were said to have first rummaged through the contents of the bags that were tossed, looking for valuables.

The station published video and images provided by an unnamed eyewitness who said he encountered the activity and recorded it. In the video, suitcases were being loaded into a trash compactor while personal effects were strewn on the ground nearby.

Items spilled from the cases included clothes, car keys, books and even prayer books, the images showed.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said in response to the report that the apparent disposal of lost suitcases is “a very serious incident that cannot be allowed to happen.”

Michaeli tweeted Sunday that she had instructed airport managers to probe the incident.

A shortage of handling staff in the wake of layoffs brought on by the travel restrictions instituted because of the coronavirus pandemic has created havoc at airports around the world, including at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international terminus.

Travelers have been separated from their suitcases on the way out, or forced to wait hours to pick up their luggage after arriving back in the country. Some give up and simply go home empty-handed, then return another day to search for their belongings or file insurance claims.

However, those who do try to locate their baggage are faced with the challenge of sifting through hundreds of suitcases that have accumulated in storage rooms and airport halls.

Posts on social media by individuals who were allowed in to search for their suitcases indicate that many bags have their owners’ identification and contact details clearly marked, but that no effort is currently being made to reach them.

The witness who spoke to Channel 12 said the suitcases he photographed belonged to passengers who had only days earlier flown out of the country and were still waiting to be reunited with their lost bags.

The witness claimed that airport workers were throwing out the suitcases but keeping any valuables they found for themselves.

“I saw them destroying the suitcases in a compactor and stealing clothes, perfumes, and all kinds of other valuables,” the witness said. “They placed them to one side.”

According to the witness, “no one in Ben Gurion bothered to photograph the suitcases to try to find their owners and in some of them there were personal items. The workers raided them in broad daylight and stole the items.”

An airport source told the network: “If this is accurate it is very serious. This is being done against procedures and it must not be ignored.”

The source added that any theft required police investigation.

Lost luggage is supposed to be put into a storeroom and efforts must be made to find the owner, the source explained.

Elad Hallel flew to Rhodes last week but his suitcase didn’t arrive, he told the Ynet news site. When he inquired, the airline told him his bag was still in Israel and that he would be able to pick it up when he returned.

When he arrived back at Ben Gurion he found a “crazy” long line of other passengers waiting at the lost luggage desk.

“They escorted us to a hall with hundreds of suitcases,” he said. “We searched but didn’t find anything.”

Hallel returned the next day and, with the help of staff who also searched in other areas, he finally found his suitcase.

“I was jumping with joy,” he said.

Some members of the public have tried to take matters into their own hands.

Facebook user Leon Morris described last week trying to find a lost suitcase on behalf of a friend and searching through hundreds of items. He posted photos of luggage labels with their owners’ names clearly visible on tags in the hope that it might help reunite baggage with its rightful owners.

There is now a Facebook group, “Lost Luggage of Ben Gurion Airport (Israel),” which already has over 1,800 members.

Last month, Ben Gurion Airport director Shmuel Zakai apologized for the lengthy delays in processing passengers who were leaving the country. Travelers have sometimes been advised to arrive four hours ahead of their flights instead of the three hours usually recommended.

The unusual situation is the result of increased international flights combined with a shortage of workers, as many airport employees still haven’t returned to work following the pandemic.

Zakai explained to Channel 12 that he was allowing the delays because he didn’t want to cancel flights as that could lead to higher prices. He said that efforts were being made to recruit new employees and also retrain existing workers so that they can help with security screening.

Zakai announced his resignation earlier this month.

Scenes of chaos and long lines at the airport have become more frequent since March, when Israel eased most COVID-related travel restrictions. The situation became worse during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which saw an estimated 75,000 passengers go through the airport in a single day.

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