I’m rather glad I went through Orly airport last weekend, not this one:
A man has been shot dead after trying to seize a soldier’s weapon at Orly airport in Paris, French officials say.
He was killed by the security forces in a shop after the attack in the airport’s southern terminal.
The airport has been shut after what the authorities described as an extremely serious incident.
The eye witnesses interviewed in the article are clearly unfamiliar with France and how things are done over here:
“We were sitting in Hall Three when all of a sudden people started running and telling us to run with them,” Ellie Guttetter, 18, from the US said.
“The people running were passengers and flight attendants. It was pretty chaotic and everyone was panicking – it was scary.”
Another eyewitness, Meredith Dixon, described seeing panicked airline personnel, with no security or police personnel to usher people outside the airport complex.
“It was complete chaos,” she told the BBC.
“There were no alarms. No overhead announcements. No organised evacuation. People just began running.
“In the meantime, passengers kept arriving at the airport. I am stunned that after the events in this country, and Paris in particular, the airport had no organised evacuation plan for what I would surmise is a high-value target.”
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. A few years back a friend of mine, a Russian, was travelling on an Air France flight when one of the passengers took ill. She started having some kind of seizure and collapsed on the floor. The stewardesses had no idea what to do and so called their chief from first class, a man. He arrived and also had no idea what to do and started to panic. This induced panic in the rest of the stewardesses which was quickly transferred to the nearby passengers. Eventually somebody got the sick woman some medicine from within her hand baggage and things calmed down. I remarked to my friend that I’d seen a similar incident take place on an Aeroflot flight and the stewardesses just took it in their stride: asked some firm questions, got the answers, and administered some medicine. My friend and I also had a discussion about how Russians, especially men, really aren’t prone to panic. Stuff goes catastrophically wrong in Russia so often that people are used to it, and learn to deal with it. I expect the Aeroflot staff wouldn’t panic even if the plane was upside down and on fire.
Chaos and panic are common in France, as is poor organisation, especially when things go wrong. There are reasons for this. In France, promotions in organisations are achieved not by the calm, consistent delivery of quality output but by firstly being a member of an elite group, and then secondly by doing everything in your power to stand out in meetings where the hierarchy is present, preferably by making your rivals look stupid. One of the most common ways to do this is to “challenge” somebody or something, i.e. make yourself look smarter than whoever set up the prevailing orthodoxy. Nobody got anywhere in France by following the rules; those who want to get ahead must learn to break them as a matter of routine.
They would have had an evacuation plan at Orly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve actually held drills. The problem is, every drill would have gone differently as successive people in charge decided they knew better than the person who drew up the plan. Yes, if you spend a decade or more climbing the greasy pole in a French organisation, eventually you start to believe your own bullshit and genuinely think you know more than anyone else. Until the shit really hits the fan that is, and then it’s panic followed rapidly by finding somebody to blame. France has some of the most brilliant minds in the world at its disposal, but sound management eludes them and they lack leaders almost entirely.
It is worth looking at the fate of Air France 447, which came down in 2009 between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. A 2011 article in Popular Mechanics went into considerable detail as to the causes of the crash, going through the cockpit recordings line-by-line. It paints a dismal picture of experienced pilots engaged in a litany of human errors as they abandon warnings, procedures, and protocols because – presumably – they think they know better. When I first read about this the crash started to make sense.
The primary reason for intensive training in dealing with emergency scenarios and carrying out drills is to ensure key people will be familiar with the chaotic environment and won’t panic, and each person will know exactly what their role is so, together, they can bring the situation under control. But French organisations have a culture of promoting highly-ambitious, usually very intelligent people who are extremely individualistic and must demonstrate their brilliance by throwing orthodoxy out of the window.
I’m not saying any other country could manage an airport attack better than the French authorities managed the one at Orly this morning. But I’m not in the least surprised that there was chaos, panic, and a complete lack of anyone in charge. This goes to the very heart of their organisational culture.