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Opinions of Thursday, 28 May 2009

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson

Are the Accra Airport's "Baggage handlers"

The recounting of the experiences of what seems to be my jinxed holiday journey to Ghana in March 2009, will amplify on the societal evils in Ghana. These experiences will feature in various articles I plan publishing on Ghanaweb with the passage of time.

I was dismayed to learn of the overt thievery that goes on at the Kotoka International Airport. The perpetrators of this sinistrous crime are the "Baggage handlers" who otherwise are entrusted with the secure delivery of the luggage. Their tendency to help themselves, breaking into air passengers' luggage without their knowledge or their presence is not only astonishing but flagitious. This crime is likely to be effected by the Baggage handlers somewhere between getting the luggage from the aircraft and onto the baggage carousel.

On the 12th March 2009 at 11:10, I flew to Ghana aboard an Afriqiyah Flight: 8U913 from London Gatwick to Tripoli. I was on transit in Tripoli from 16:40 till 19:00 local time. I then got on another Afriqiyah flight 8U750 at 19:00. The aircraft arrived in Accra minutes earlier than the scheduled local time of 21:35. Within twenty minutes of arrival, I had checked through the immigration post and into the carousel area, awaiting the collection of my two pieces of luggage. The waiting became long as the luggage came in bits though we were just about sixty passengers on the plane, and the soul plane to have arrived at that time. I started getting edgy after a little over one hour wait. The baggage handlers would come around, loiter about a bit, and then retreat to whence they came. After a total of about one hour forty minutes wait, they told us there were no more luggage coming. We were about eight people left without either a single or our entire luggage collected. I was without any of my two checked-in luggages except the hand luggage taken on the plane.

We decided after convincing ourselves of the long lamentable wait that the luggages are lost in transit, and that their non-availability must be officially reported. A lady who had a little baby with her was grieving over how to feed the child overnight as all her baby foods were in one of her checked-in luggage. It was well over 23:00 hours by then. We headed towards a counter where a young officer was sitting ready to receive complaints of all sorts. He had a large scale by him. Just as he started filling in forms for us and advising we came back tomorrow to check in case the missing luggage arrived, whoops, the carousel started revolving with bags on. Then a guy who claimed to be the supervisor of the baggage handling team for the night said, "I had told you your luggage would be coming". This same gentleman had about twice said earlier there were no more luggages to come. If he knew there were more luggage to come, why had he lied to us and also, why such long wait of nearly two hours in limbo? It was about forty minutes in-between having our luggage and the last time a luggage from our flight was on the carousel. Why this time lapse?

When the luggage did come after the horrendous long wait, what did we notice? These unscrupulous thieves had attempted to break into and broken into almost all the luggage. They had kept the last cage full of luggage from the airline to feast on in a way deemed fit by the disgusting Ghanaian mentality of "get rich quick by any means possible". They had ripped off the code lock on one of my bags. I stared at the bag in disbelief. They had tampered with not only my bag but almost all the bags in the last cage. Any passenger who collected their bags were complaining about their bags been intruded upon. The padlocks, zips and other safety mechanisms had been tampered with on some bags. Why this thievery at our airport by the officially employed baggage handlers who draw a monthly salary or wages?

We reported this shocking encounter to the gentleman by the scales. He asked to know the stolen items in order to fill in an official complaint against those guys. As most of us had no time ruffling through the bags to check all items to know which had gone missing, considering the long wait and the possible panicking of those come to meet us, we thought it was not worth the bother. The officer advised us to weigh the bags at least but I could not understand the philosophy behind it until I was about to exit the arrival hall. A lady official collecting the passenger's bit of the boarding pass explained why we should have weighed the luggage as suggested by the official. She showed me where to find the passenger's copies of the luggage tags bearing the total weight of each luggage. They were stuck on the air tickets issued by the Travel agents. By simply weighing them when suspected to have been tampered with, and comparing the suspected weight to what is stated on the tag, the truth will be known without necessarily checking the contents of the luggage item by item. Should there be any shortfall in weight, then the luggage has been tampered with.

Their usual disappointing attitude that got me on my nerves was when they maliciously once again tampered with my bag on my return journey to London on 23rd April 2009. When I arrived at the airport on the night of the stipulated date at 21:00, I had my luggage opened and physically checked by a custom's officer. It was given the "all clear", meaning it contained no controlled substance. I then queued up intending to check in my only single luggage. It was remarked to be much heavier for a single luggage than is permitted by the Afriqiyah airline. It was within the region of forty kilos instead of the allowable two-pieces luggage of twenty four kilos each plus an additional hand luggage. I was fortunate enough to be sold a small "Ghana must go" bag at the airport. This helped with reducing the weight of my earlier single luggage to a conforming standard. I transferred some of the items to the just purchased bag. The airline's attendant on the check-in counter offered to check in my "Ghana must bag" in addition to the proper luggage if I wished. I declined the offer with a thank you said to him. The "Ghana must go" bag was without any security lock on it. Hence, it was deemed too vulnerable to being tampered with. I decided to carry it on to the aircraft for a hand luggage instead.

The Afriqiyah Flight: 8U751 took off at around 23:00 arriving at Tripoli on 24th April 2009 at 06:00 local time. At 08:30, I was on another flight, 8U912, of same airline to London Gatwick, landing at 11:00 (GMT + 1:00 - British Summer Time - BST). Within twenty five minutes of the aircraft landing, I had taken delivery of my checked-in luggage and was outside the airport in a queue buying an Express train ticket to the City of London; Victoria train station, to be more precise.

It was when I decided to make my two bags into a single luggage after the purchase of the train ticket, that I discovered my worst nightmare. The hook & loop on which was the padlock had not only been broken but the padlock removed entirely. Do I say the padlock was stolen as well? Probably yes. A quick glance revealed how the items had been fiddled with and ruffled like the feathers of a bird. I was so furious that I finally decided against putting the two bags into one. I was very ill and looked feeble. I could see wheeling the bag much less demanding than struggling with two bloody bags, as sick as I was.

In a nutshell, the Ghanaian baggage handlers at the Kotoka International Airport are a disgrace to the nation. They are unstoppably into the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another; they are committing theft on daily basis. Shame on them!

I suggest the way forward as following:

* If an official complaint had been lodged, I would recommend for the sacking of the team leader of the baggage handlers who worked on the night of 12th March 2009 as aforesaid. His many lies told, and reactions are sufficient proof to make him redundant if not prosecuted. This will serve as a warning to the others outrageously happy into that stealing gravy train.

* It must be brought to their attention that opening up a luggage for any reason without the presence of the owner is a criminal offence punishable by the laws of the land.

* It must be noted that an innocent person can easily fall foul to the law by a dubious thieving baggage handler planting a contraband good(s) in ones bag without his/her knowledge. If one could break into my bag after it has been checked in, stole what they wanted, threw away the padlock, and is the person not capable of any other thing or crime feasible?

* The baggage handlers if not working in tandem with other conniving superiors are suggested to be monitored and physically searched at the close of their shift. This will reduce their field day propensity to tampering and stealing from passenger's luggage.

* On a serious note, how is one suspected of a crime being believed by the public when he/she denies having anything to do with the alleged crime? In my case where my bags were twice broken into without my express permission or presence, how could I prove my innocence if controlled substance had been found in them either in Ghana or in Britain at my arrival? This is a very dangerous position they are putting people into.

* Was Daasebre Dwamena innocent as proved by the court after his year long illegal incarceration after all? Yes he was, if viewed in terms of the logical sequence of my unfolding encounters. This young talented musician was accused of transporting cocaine to London. Although the package containing the Class "A" Drug was found in his luggage, he had not his finger prints anywhere on the package. Many were those that doubted his innocence but when related to my situation where my bags got broken into incessantly, you can be your own best judge.

* All those who misconduct themselves in the execution of their official duties must be exposed, shamed and prosecuted.

Finally, these airport twerps have fallen on the wrong person. They have dealt maliciously with a guy who will not hesitate to bring their iniquity to the limelight. They are warned!

Rockson Adofo, London