A seven-year-old girl slipped through security checks at Geneva Airport and onto a plane without a ticket before being spotted by a crew member and handed over to police, officials have confirmed.
Acknowledging an “eminently regrettable” incident that could have turned out worse, Geneva Airport spokesman Bertrand Stämpfli said in a statementexternal link on Wednesday that authorities were enhancing measures to ensure that children are accompanied by adults when passing through security checks at the airport on the French border.
In the incident on Sunday, the girl, who was not identified, initially slipped away from her parents at Geneva’s main railway station and travelled by train to the airport. The girl repeatedly “took advantage of her small size” and employed a “ruse” to make it look like she was travelling with adults ahead or behind her, the spokesman said.
After a failed first attempt, she tried again and succeeded, getting aboard an easyJet flight bound for Corsica. Stämpfli said that an alert Air France crew member, who had spotted the girl trying to board one of its flights, flagged her to the crew of the airline, which in turn alerted police.
Using video surveillance footage, airport authorities said she was first turned away after trying to follow crew members onto a flight. She then quickly blended into the nearby crowd, pretending to join her parents. The second time, she succeeded by slipping through a gap only large enough for a small child.
EasyJet, in a statement, acknowledged that “an unaccompanied child incorrectly boarded flight EZS1305 from Geneva to Ajaccio” and said an investigation had been launched.
“The crew correctly identified the child should not be onboard and immediately reported it to the police,” the statement said.
Silvain Guillaume-Gentil, a spokesman for Geneva police, said the girl's father had repeatedly notified police after losing track of her near the train station. He even ended up riding briefly in a patrol car to try to find her.
Stämpfli said representatives of all airport personnel were immediately summoned for a meeting.
“What this shows is that while controls for adults and accompanied children are effective, there are holes to fill when it comes to unaccompanied children,” he said.
Chasing a dream
The Sunday following the incident, Le Matin Dimanche reported that the girl, who is autistic and rarely speaks, “simply wanted to relive her dream of taking a plane,” and kept repeating the word “airplane, airplane”. She had previously been to the Geneva Airport in July with her parents, who reside in Geneva, to fly with them to their native Ethiopia.
Stephan Eliez, a professor of child psychiatry at the University of Geneva and head of a Geneva-based foundationexternal link dedicated to the care of those with autism, told the French language paper that the girl's escape was likely more about pursuing her dream of flying than a desire to run away.
"I can image that this child, by an extreme sensitivity to the situation, was probably able to sneak through where 99% of children [without autism] would have failed," he added.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts