Spain Raises Airport Taxes

The government of Spain has announced that it is raising airport taxes.

The amount of the increase depends on the airport, with the average being 18.9 percent. Taxes at the two busiest airports, however, will more than double. Madrid’s Barajas airport will increase from 6.95 euros to 14.44 ($8.64 to $17.94). Barcelona’s El Prat airport will go from 6.12 euros to 13.44 ($7.60 to $16.70).

Ryanair and Vueling have already passed the extra fee onto their passengers. Other airlines have yet to decide how to respond. The tax is retrospective for those who booked before July 2, 2012, and are traveling from July 1 onwards.

Spain is one of the most troubled economies of the Eurozone. It has recently been granted up to 100 billion euros ($124 billion) in bailouts for its banks and the government is planning harsh austerity measures in order to balance the books. With summer tourist season kicking into high gear, the increased tax will bring in tens of millions in much-needed funds, assuming it doesn’t turn away too many tourists.

[Photo of Madrid’s Barajas airport courtesy Andres Rueda]

Fake pilots try to smuggle cocaine through airport

Spanish police have arrested two men who tried to smuggle cocaine through Madrid’s Barajas airport while dressed as pilots.

The two men boarded a flight from Bolivia and then changed into pilot uniforms. So far, so good, but once they landed in Madrid they joined the queue with the rest of the passengers. This struck the airport police as a wee bit suspicious. When asked for ID, they produced IDs from a different airline than the one they arrived on. Strike two. The cops then questioned the real crew of the plane and found out these folks were, in fact, passengers. Strike three. The daring duo then had their bags searched and were found to be in possession of 55 kilos (121 lbs) of Bolivian marching powder.

This video (in Spanish) shows just how good their disguises were. It is unclear at this point whether the uniforms are brilliant fakes or real ones they acquired somehow. Too bad for them they hadn’t thought out the rest of their plan as carefully. Perhaps they read how Gadling caught the cops at Barajas “allegedly” playing solitaire and figured it was an easy target.

Airport security “allegedly” caught playing solitaire

Once again, airport security is screwing up in public.

My wife, son, and I passed through Madrid’s Barajas airport to fly to London yesterday. While waiting to board, I “allegedly” caught this police officer playing solitaire on the computer at the police checkpoint. She was so engrossed in her game that I was able to take four shots of her without her noticing.

Granted, nobody was boarding at that moment, so she might technically have been on break, but she was in full view of the public and within sight of several gates for international flights, so she had better things to keep her eyes on. When I worked security for IBM back in my college days we were under strict instructions not to take breaks within sight of the public because (duh) it made it look like we were slacking off.

This isn’t the first time airport security has been caught playing solitaire, and considering that there was a deadly terrorist bombing in Spain less than a year ago, I think Spanish airport police should be a bit more watchful.

If anyone at Barajas is interested, this occurred on March 30 at 2:44 PM local time at Gate H22 of Terminal 4. I have the officer’s badge number in case you want to contact me.

NOTE: My editors asked me to insert “allegedly” into this post to cover our collective legal asses, but I know what I saw. I take my family’s security seriously. More seriously than this cop, allegedly.

Madrid airport luggage handlers smuggle 17 kilos of cocaine into Spain

4 luggage handlers at Madrid Barajas Airport have been arrested for smuggling cocaine into Spain by taking advantage of their position and access to luggage that is unloaded off air crafts.

A bag with over 17 kilograms(!) of cocaine was loaded onto the plane from an unspecified destination. The “loaders” then contacted their friends who worked at Barajas with identification details of the bag that had the drug. Once the bag arrived at Barajas, the luggage handlers picked it up and sent it to the person responsible for delivering missing luggage to its owners (who was also part of the scheme) — this is how they had planned to get it out of the airport. Sounds too easy to be possible, eh?

It seems like this wasn’t the first time it has happened, but the first time they’ve been caught. It is unclear at what stage they got caught, and how.

Spain has a serious cocaine problem: 3% of adults in the country consume cocaine (even more than the US), making Spain the largest consumer in Europe.

Spain is very lax in many aspects: it’s rules are not applied stringently, especially at the airports the controls are quite loose, nobody seems to be really bothered. For example: I have American friends living here for years without papers, sin problema. Once, one of them got questioned on her overstay when she re-entered Spain from the US. She told them she had fallen in love, that’s why she didn’t go back when she should have. Apparently, the officer smiled and let her back into the country! It could have been her lucky day, but I still don’t think that’s acceptable.

Another example: smoking marijuana in public is illegal here (you can grow and smoke it at home!), yet every one does it — I don’t know anyone who has been caught.

In my opinion, no matter what soup you are in, if you look innocent, behave with the authorities, and are a little smart, you’ll probably get away with it in Spain. So it doesn’t surprise me that even authorities take advantage of this chilled attitude. I am glad they got caught. Hopefully this will make Barajas re-evaluate their procedures and tighten controls!

Madrid Airport Stuck in Low Gear

You might remember our baggage disaster, reported on these pages (by the way, thanks for the great comments). Well, three months later, almost to the day, believe it or not, we got our bag back (just as we were still wrangling about getting paid for the lost contents). Funny thing is, even though we didn’t go to Madrid, our bag did, judging by the multitude of tags. Now I can see what the problem was.

It turns out Madrid’s $8B shining new airport is a logistical nightmare: it has 24-minute treks between terminals, and one of Europe’s worst flight-delay records among other problems. The international terminal alone is two buildings that sit 1.6 miles apart, connected by rail. Not too surprising, for the world’s largest airport terminal.

This means that there are delays for bags, too. At best, it will take your bags 15 minutes to get to the nearest carousel. Handlers are trying to double the speed of the conveyors, to make up for the long distances.

I’m guessing our bag was lost somewhere within the 8.5 million-square-foot facility (that’s larger than the entire square footage of NYC’s 19-building, 22-acre Rockefeller Center). What one wonders, however, is how this was supposed to benefit passengers, rather than some architect’s fantasy.