Lost Suitcases in Airport Restrooms

Want to cause chaos at an airport? Leave a suitcase in the restroom:

Three incoming flights from London were cancelled and about 150 others were delayed for up to three hours, while the army's bomb squad carried out its investigation, before giving the all-clear at about 5pm.

Passengers were told to leave the arrivals hall, main check-in area at the terminal building, the food courts and shops, and gather at safety areas outside.

The scare led to major traffic disruption around the airport, with tailbacks stretching back about a mile. Some passengers faced lengthy walks to the airport after being dropped off by shuttle bus from the city centre.

Oddest quote is from a police spokesperson:

"Inquires are under way to establish how the luggage came to be located within the toilets."

My guess is that someone left it there.

I'd suggest this as a good denial-of-service attack, but certainly there is a video camera recording of the person bringing the suitcase into the airport. The article says it was left in the "domestic arrivals area." I don't know if that's inside airport security or not.

Posted on July 10, 2009 at 12:45 PM • 54 Comments

Comments

florianJuly 10, 2009 1:07 PM

Now this just screams for an international flashmob.

@Schneier: "As the area is open to the public, the bag would not necessarily have been checked in." So, outside airport security.

JemaleddinJuly 10, 2009 1:08 PM

a) Arrivals sounds like it's outside the zone,
b) If you bring one suitcase inside another suitcase and leave it in the bathroom, who's the wiser?

Tangerine BlueJuly 10, 2009 1:12 PM

> certainly there is a video camera recording of the
> person bringing the suitcase into the airport.

Presumably there would be many people bringing luggage in, and probably few suitcases will be uniquely identifiable from the surveillance video.

It seems like other forensic evidence found in/on the suitcase might provide better leads to the suitcase-abandonment suspect.

But since the forensics guys probably see it after the bomb squad guys, there might be little evidence left, making it a pretty safe sort of DOS attack.

JonJuly 10, 2009 1:15 PM

Since targeting transport infrastructure was a common tactic by the Irish terrorist groups for several decades, this has been the UK's standard response to unattended luggage for some time. There are continuous reminders not to leave luggage unattended going out on most PA systems at airports and stations.

I'm always amused by American tourists who just can't understand why there are no bins in central London or at railway stations etc. They don't get that people have/had a nasty habit of leaving bombs in them.

David in ChicagoJuly 10, 2009 1:25 PM

I think we have a suspect:

"However, it was the worst possible day, because the school holidays have just started and the airport was very busy."

I'm guessing our culprit is a 14-year-old girl who probably even now is searching for her bag.

Dave XJuly 10, 2009 1:33 PM

@ Jemaleddin

a) Arrivals sounds like it's outside the zone,
b) If you bring one suitcase inside another suitcase and leave it in the bathroom, who's the wiser?

Brilliant. The suitcase-in-suitcase ploy reduces the risk of "certainly there is a video camera recording of the person bringing the suitcase into the airport"

And even if it were inside the zone, you could fill the suitcase with enough water bottles and tourist snow globes to add liquid-bomby goodness for the TSA.

edJuly 10, 2009 1:42 PM

@Dave X

In addition to snow globes, maybe some bundles of carrots. And I wouldn't bother with an actual alarm clock. A cardboard cutout with a picture of an alarm clock would probably work. It might even work better if some are pictures and some are real alarm clocks. Just to keep things interesting.

DanJuly 10, 2009 2:00 PM

So if terrorists wants to gather a large number of people together in an area with effectively no security to attack them with machine guns, hand grenades, or gas canisters, all they have to do is leave an empty suitcase in a toilet.

(Shhhh!! Let's hope they don't figure this out!)

Someone please protect us from the people trying to protect us.

AndrewJuly 10, 2009 2:10 PM

I feel vindicated. I live in Edinburgh, and when someone asked me on Monday, “Did you hear the airport’s been evacuated?”, I replied, “I expect someone’s forgotten their luggage.” So it pleases me to find out that I was right.

Of course, the odds of an abandoned suitcase being genuinely lost luggage instead of a bomb are enormously high, so it would’ve been a pretty safe bet.

JohnJuly 10, 2009 2:12 PM

@Jon

We haven't had a problem with Irish terrorists for very many years now. The railway company certainly removed the rubbish bins from their stations 30 years ago for the reason you state, but everyone believes that the reason that they have not been replaced is that the company discovered that "terrorism" was an excellent excuse for saving money on emptying them.

After all, there are still rubbish bins in airports, so they can't be a security risk.

SnowBearJuly 10, 2009 2:13 PM

Given that this happened in a country that shoots innocent people because some security officer went to the bathroom at the wrong time(Jean Charles De Menezes), why am I not surprised?

anonJuly 10, 2009 2:20 PM

So, terrorists no longer have to smuggle weapons in airports anymore. All they have to do is put an empty briefcase in every bathroom in an airport. Thank you TSA -- job well done.

Josh O.July 10, 2009 2:28 PM

@Jon

Do people in the UK just carry their garbage around with them all day?

PhillipJuly 10, 2009 2:36 PM

@ Jemaleddin

Knowing Britain it wouldn't surprise me if they have a camera in the toilet stall with you.

WaltJuly 10, 2009 2:55 PM

And since suicidal terrorists do exist, how is an accompanied suitcase any less of a risk than an unattended one?

KynonJuly 10, 2009 2:59 PM

I know this airport - the domestic arrivals area is outside the security checkpoints.

@Josh O - no, what the people who operate the train stations do is employ people to patrol the station, collecting the rubbish that people drop.

Ian TurtonJuly 10, 2009 3:25 PM

My guess is that it was a response to a bag check fee since it was an empty case. "What 20 quid to check each bag? I can get all our stuff in one bag, just dump the other one."

EHJuly 10, 2009 3:29 PM

You know what I'm curious about? Whether it's illegal to forget your suitcase in this way.

thegusdadJuly 10, 2009 3:47 PM

@EH

the Star Simpson case indicates that doing anything that scares people, without regard to whether that act is done with intent or whether the fear is objectively reasonable, is illegal (at least in Massachusetts).

g33kdomJuly 10, 2009 4:36 PM

So a terrorist organization could leave a suitecase in a bathroom, and once everyone is out in the "safe" areas set off a bomb in the crowd. You can roll up to an airport with a suitecase full of explosives if you don't plan on going through security.

RoyJuly 10, 2009 4:42 PM

Now luggage thieves know where to leave the suitcases once they've broken the locks and pilfered all the good stuff.

periJuly 10, 2009 5:44 PM

@thegusdad "the Star Simpson case indicates that doing anything that scares people, without regard to whether that act is done with intent or whether the fear is objectively reasonable, is illegal."

That sounds scary to me. I'm going to have to report it.

Cyril GreyJuly 10, 2009 6:01 PM

When you're DOSing the airport with your suitcase-in-a-suitcase trick, please remember to also pack two separate hats. That should cover the whole "possibility of discovery" thing more or less completely.

ThomasJuly 10, 2009 9:50 PM

The obvious answer to this threat is to put CCTV cameras inside the toilet cubicles.

clJuly 10, 2009 10:09 PM

Around 2002, I left a duffel bag with my teddy bear and a change of clothing (hey, I was moving across the country with my worldly possessions :)) near a news stand where I was browsing through the books. Half an hour later I came back and there were three security guards carefully prodding the bag. They were pretty reasonable and let me go, probably because I looked like a harmless teenage girl, although they did squeeze my bear rather thoroughly.

But they did tell me that they had already reported it and that backup was on the way. I can only imagine what would have happened had I not come back in time to retrieve my bag.

AntonJuly 10, 2009 11:15 PM

I managed to recover my lapton which I left on a bench at a Sydney train station because 3 security guards were standing guard over it for neary an hour. One positive outcome as a result of all the fear mongering.

BernardJuly 11, 2009 1:18 AM

@Josh O.
>>
Do people in the UK just carry their garbage around with them all day?

No, there is now a culture of people just dropping litter everywhere. It's unbelievable.

On a 10 minute walk from my home to the supermarket, I counted that I could not go more than 5 feet without finding a piece of litter. And this in an area that is supposedly cleaned on a daily basis.

Idiots like me do carry litter with us until we find a bin. Sometimes I end up bringing it home with me because I can't find a bin.

It's no surprise that I have to pay local taxes that amount to 200% the cost of my mortgage so that the streets and parks can be litter-picked every day.

PietJuly 11, 2009 2:57 AM

I was on an airport yesterday (in Holland) and someone left a bag in the cafeteria. After a while a security guy shows up, to look at the bag. After about 15 minutes two more guy's with a dog arrive to sniff out the bag. All the while people where just sitting (and joking) 5 ft away. The dog thought there was no bomb, so they pick up the bag. At that point someone from my group recognizes her bag, ooops.

All the while the only thing I was worried about is that they would go frantic about it and make everybody miss their flight.

PS: I got a bit scared when the dog acted happy though, you'd think he gets a treat when he finds a bomb. But apparently that is not the case.

ericaJuly 11, 2009 3:13 AM

sniffer dogs are trained to do something innocuous when they recognize something.

Like just sit down quietly next to it.

That allows their handlers to nonchalantly stroll away to safety without bystanders realizing their is a live issue :-)

a different bruceJuly 11, 2009 4:03 AM

The IRA would plant a bomb in one location, and have another timed to go off to catch innocents beyond the safety cordon. Like someone said, at UK airports there are more than enough warnings about unattended luggage.

dingleberryJuly 11, 2009 6:48 AM

Awesome!
I know what I'm going to do this summer holiday to amuse myself!

Hugh MannJuly 11, 2009 7:16 AM

London is learning first hand what every student at my highschool caught onto within months of attendence. So everytime a bomb threat was called in, no matter how unlikely, the school was evacuated. The students and faculty were always evacuted to the same location the football field bleechers near the school. So it stands to reason that you could simply plant a bomb at the unsecured bleechers then call a threat into the moderatly more secure school. Ohh and given the size of the bleecehers compared to that of the school they are also significantly more densly populated then the school.

bf skinnerJuly 11, 2009 7:55 AM

"how the luggage came to be"

Spontaneous generation of complex forms is fully predicted by the second premis of string theory.

Obviously this bag was breeding, when the new handbags were born and scampered away in the piles on carts outside the restroom - it went to sleep.

@a different bruce "The IRA would plant a bomb in one location, and have another timed to go off to catch innocents beyond the safety cordon"

Ah I see. The real story here is WHERE's THE OTHER empty bag and why aren't they looking for it?

WarLordJuly 11, 2009 5:34 PM

For this to work as a DOS attack you only need a nice big 2 suiter wheeled bad with a small carry on zipped inside and use the rest rooms by the baggage carousals in arrivals outside the bubble.

This also presupposes that a "real" attack could use the confusion and random traffic around the carousals...

Jannie FunsterJuly 12, 2009 8:01 AM

You know how in fancy restaurants they have people doling out hand-towels? Maybe in airport bathrooms they could have folks making sure people take their carry-ons back out with them, but you wouldn't have to tip them a buck, or anything. Just a thought.

JustinJuly 12, 2009 5:47 PM

@John "We haven't had a problem with Irish terrorists for very many years now. The railway company certainly removed the rubbish bins from their stations 30 years ago for the reason you state, but everyone believes that the reason that they have not been replaced is that the company discovered that "terrorism" was an excellent excuse for saving money on emptying them."

This is exactly what happened in Sydney. All the bins were removed from train stations as a terrorist precaution prior to the 2000 Olympics and never replaced as it's less work to not have bins to empty....

jamesJuly 12, 2009 10:09 PM

"I'd suggest this as a good denial-of-service attack, but certainly there is a video camera recording of the person bringing the suitcase into the airport."
Not if you bring a smaller suitcase inside a bigger one!

CalumJuly 13, 2009 2:17 AM

Given that this is in a country that actually has been bombed semi-regularly over the last 40-odd years, I'd say the security forces know how to respond appropriately. That said, almost any beat constable will be able to tell you of the suspicious package he quietly opened and investigated rather than cause an incident.

Pete AustinJuly 13, 2009 2:57 AM

Solution: auction the job of removing the bag.

The passenger who wants least money gets to carry the bag to an open area where it can be dealt with later. Personally, if faced with a miniscule risk and looking heroic, vs a long delay, I would remove the bag for free.

Re: no rubbish bins in railway stations to prevent bombs.

The railway stations that I visit have replaced their rubbish bins by transparent plastic sacks - a cheap, low-tech solution that stops people hiding stuff in them.


Anderer GregorJuly 13, 2009 3:46 AM

So, what's the news? Happens all the times in German railway stations ... and while it is, IIRC, not a (federal) crime to lose your baggage, German Railways and the police will claim compensation for their damage from the owner.

JohnJuly 13, 2009 8:15 AM

@erica
sniffer dogs are trained to do something innocuous when they recognize something.

Yep, originally they trained bomb dogs to have the same reaction as drug dogs upon detection.....
But there were too many cases of "Opps, there goes Fido. Hey Frank? Could you get Rover over here?"

ShaneJuly 13, 2009 10:27 AM

It's good to know they just gave the world a HOW-TO on anonymously shutting down an airport for 5 hours or so.

*sigh* Idiots.

Mark J.July 14, 2009 4:27 PM

Crap, my wife just discovered that she left her pillow at the hotel we were staying at in Chicago. Hope they don't evacuate the hotel.

IrishMarkJuly 16, 2009 5:04 AM

@piet

No wonder The Netherlands is such a civil society.

When was the last time a real bomb was found in an airport suitcase? Too much 24 methinks.

OlivierJuly 16, 2009 7:20 PM

The same thing happened to me in an hotel. I had just stepped out when I realized I had forgotten something. I left my heavy bag where I was (on a table on the floor below) and went back to meyroom. When I came back a few minutes later, my bag was still there but there were two security agents with a talkie-walkie guarding it and they were not pleased!

Another DaveJuly 17, 2009 2:48 PM

@Piet

I was waiting for a flight back to the US at Schiphol airport a few years ago. There was an unattended bag in the gate area for the flight. A couple of security guys came over, watched the bag for a few minutes. The owner then showed up (an older cowboy type fellow from the US) and they gave him a bit of a hard time about leaving the bag and then left him alone.

Scott LewisJuly 27, 2009 2:07 PM

I would LOVE to be on a plane during this... if you leave a suitcase with a bomb in the bathroom, even if you intended on bringing it on the plane, the plane is safe - since you forgot the bomb!

Clive RobinsonJuly 28, 2009 5:31 AM

@ Scott Lewis,

"even if you intended on bringing it on the plane, the plane is safe - since you forgot the bomb!"

Hmm where there is one bomb there could and has been more...

Not so long ago the Provo's built a small bomb and hid it somewhere, and phoned in a warning.

What they did not say is that there was a second much bigger bomb co-located with the most likley place people where evacuated to.

When the second bomb exploded it killed a lot of people.

Since then there have been a number of similar bombings with equaly devestating effect.

If there is a bomb scare and you cannot be a long long way away, then the safest place to be is way out in the open where other people and objects are not, and as close to the dirt (ground) as possible.

And if you cannot be a long long way away and/or out on your own, if a bomb has exploded or been defused probably the next safest place to be is where it was...

Some nasty people plan for what others do and take advantage of it to maximise the effect.

juniorJanuary 14, 2010 9:38 AM

i really need this answered: is it illegal to put a smaller baggage in a bigger baggage

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