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It’s a long read but should get your attention seeing as how you could be the victim. Unless you don’t fly to any airport.
Having written on air safety for 30 years I am pretty gung ho with the idea of anything that contributes to airport security. After 9/11 and Richard Reid’s explosive choked shoe and the realization that airports are ‘easy targets’ that support has become a given. Every act, however small, that contributes to being a deterrent gets my vote. That is the operative word. Deterrent. So, don’t mock it just because it is tedious to rise from one’s bizclass lounge armchair and brush shoulders with the great unwashed.
That said there exist some real dangers at Indian airports, prominent among them the use of generic passports shared by people with flatlining names like Kumar, Singh, Patel, Nair, Ali, Thomas. Every day, scores of Indians fly in from around the world or take off with such documents so if that ‘stupid’ cop at the gate has an epiphany or some incandescent surge of brilliance at the gate he might just stop an imposter. So when he looks at your face and then at your pix and you want to smack him for what you see as rank stupidity, be grateful he’s doing it. If a terrorist is smart enough to create a print out to enter the airport he can also access a genuine ‘false’ passport…it is not rocket science.
The sale of Indian passports is no small cottage industry. Some years ago, in Hyderabad, there was an organized scam of pulling off the residence visa page and splicing it into another passport. Many a fmaily discovered the page missing when they commenced their return journey.
The brouhaha one hears over stamping that hand baggage tag might come off to the rich and famous as a fragile and irritating defence but it is another step in the slow down effort that is intrinsic to airport security.
This desire to publicly flagellate ourselves is annoying. The Americans offload two year olds. Crew dump stereotypes every day, on your bike mate, you are not getting on my plane. ‘Sierra’ warnings for ‘uh oh’ folks occur a thousand times a day. Airports are contemplating full body x-rays and diaphanous gowns. The French categorize your risk factor by nationality. Britain has you on camera 99 percent of the time. If the computer bank behind that opaque green wall gives your profile a 60% semblance to a wanted individual you are not leaving that airport or flying anywhere. My name is Bikram…the computer reads it often enough as – Ikram - and I get to be placed in another queue. Anjali, Gitanjali, same difference, only the last three letters get highlighted. Okay, fine, just keep me safe.
Airport security is not always logical. It is arbitrary and ad hoc and not all the technology in the world can make it failsafe or eliminate the human factor. All it can put is stumbling blocks.
No one whines about all that but India bashing is acceptable fodder as we pour ourselves some sermons and soda water and moan about the awful experience we had coming in or flying out, pass the salmon, please.
If anything, it is the corruption of the rules by the high and mighty that are the single largest factors in compromising air safety. Of these, the biggest danger is the ‘free pass’ given to VIPs and their acolytes at Indian airports. Ministers who will not be frisked and display indignation that they have to suffer such an indignity. If you allow one person to bypass security you don’t have it, period. Senior bureaucrats who have arranged their exit with a posse of official lickspittles (a scene we are all familiar with) trotting besides them as they walk past the queues. If, by chance, they are taking in a Glock or a Heckler and Kotch .45 so what, the Chief Secretary is an aficionado of guns, you must pop by and see his collection. Celebrities and their retinues who have extra special handling and can put the whole system out of kilter by their presence are another nuisance in India and deflect from the unwavering attention that should be given to the job. Fan frenzy is so big that if I had to engage in an aviation incident I’d coincide its occurrence with the presence of a film star or cricketer because no one would be paying any attention to me.
Let’s move on.
See this lady here with the mountain of seven suitcases that are being escorted through while everyone looks away because she is connected to you know who…and if she is bringing in a trove in gold so be it.
Look at that senior cop berating the security for daring to x-ray his wife’s bag while they stand as stiffly as Taussad’s statues. No one says, hey, wait a minute, the cop saw something, open that bag, I don’t care who you are, he saw something.
See this minister’s lackey who brings on board an oversized suitcase that should be check-in baggage because he has the clout and now endangers the safety of 150 passengers as he precariously stuffs it into the overhead bin. Thanks mate.
There is, however, one system that can be eliminated. The filling in of cards with the same useless information is now redundant. You have my passport, you have a computer with all the background, you need nothing else. Skip the cards and save the trees.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
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