Paris terror attacks: Reactions: Singapore

Returning passengers recall 'messy' scene at Paris airport

Architect Ong Hwee Jin, 39, was staying in a hotel around 3km from the concert hall where the most casualties occurred.
Architect Ong Hwee Jin, 39, was staying in a hotel around 3km from the concert hall where the most casualties occurred. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Passengers arriving on SQ335 yesterday morning, the first flight out of Paris to Singapore since the attacks on the French capital, recalled sirens and strong police presence on the city's streets.

But many added that they were not aware of what was going on and took the advice of hotel staff to stay in their rooms.

"We didn't know what had happened until we got back to the hotel," said architect Ong Hwee Jin, 39, who was staying about 3km away from the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people died.

"The staff told us that something sinister had happened and to stay indoors."

Added another passenger, 66-year-old Catherine Goh: "There were a lot of sirens going on the whole night, and we saw what was happening on the news."

Many also made their way to the airport early, either as a precaution or because they had been informed by Singapore Airlines (SIA) to do so via SMS.

"SIA sent out a message to tell us to go early," said civil servant Lee Siew Chin, 42, who was in Paris on vacation.

"Usually there would be a few counters open for passengers to check in, but they restricted it to only one."

Passengers said they waited for about four hours to check in and recalled the scene at Charles de Gaulle airport as "messy", with jostling and queue-cutting as people tried to get their bags checked in.

Those who boarded the plane early then waited on the tarmac for around two hours before the last passenger boarded and the plane could leave.

The plane, scheduled to arrive in Singapore at 6.40am, landed at Changi Airport's Terminal 2 only at around 8.30am. There were 431 passengers on the flight.

Passengers were also required to go through security screening at Changi Airport after they had collected their baggage before being allowed to move into the main arrival hall.

On its Facebook page, SIA urged its customers to constantly check the status of their flights as the situation in Paris is fluid, although flights to and from the city are operating normally for now.

"In addition, due to enhanced security screening checks, flight delays can be expected," it said in the post. "Customers are advised to plan ahead and arrive early at the airport for their flights."

The airline also said it will waive all fees for ticket-holders who wish to re-book or re-route flights arriving at or departing from Paris.

The waiver is valid for tickets issued up to Nov 14, for travel to and from the city up to Nov 30. Tickets are extendable up to Jan 31.

The French Embassy in Singapore said in a Facebook post that people can write their condolences in a book from 9am to 5pm today, and from 8am to 9pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It added that it will observe a minute of silence at 7pm today in memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks.

However, due to security constraints, only French nationals with valid identity cards or passports will be admitted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Returning passengers recall 'messy' scene at Paris airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe