Monday, August 31, 2009

Security checks, frisking and VIPs at International Airports: Kalam and Khan

During a recent trip to India and back, I had an opportunity to fly back on Continental 83, the infamous non-stop flight from Delhi to Newark. Infamous because this was the flight that India’s beloved former president, Abdul Kalam, was boarding when he was “frisked.”

Was I, a business-class passenger, excempt? No, I too was frisked; as were ALL other passengers on my flight that day. Not that I spotted any Very Important Persons (VIPs) on my flight. The “frisking” was done much after the security and Immigration check already done by Indian Immigration and Security agencies. From what I observed, the additional check of hand-baggage, x-ray and physical pat-down was conducted by private security employed by Continental Airlines. It was conducted just before one approaches the aircraft gate to board, after airline security staff (yet again) check one’s passport, immigration and other documents.

I guess this extra security is demanded by the US authorities (and American public) as it is one of the few flights from India directly flying into the US non-stop.

I have experienced similar ‘frisking’ elsewhere during my travels too. It is not unusual to undergo additional frisking/searching on similar flights to the US originating in Europe, Dubai and elsewhere after a stopover. In most such stopovers, one is checked/frisked again before boarding though one does not get out of the sterile transit area, and one does not think twice about it.

Much after Continental’s apology to Indian Government and Mr. Kalam, questions still remain:
  • So why the ruckus? Probably because it was the Ex-President of India being frisked on Indian soil (and it is incidental that he is Muslim).
  • India's former president is a threat to air safety? What about other former-presidents of other countries?
  • Would Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton be subject to the same "frisking" if they were to board CO 83 in Delhi [Question is probably moot since they generally travel on private jets]
  • Does American Airline have a right to frisk Indians or other foreigners on foreign soil? Do they not trust the foreign government’s security? [“While travelling from an international location to the US on an US commercial aircraft, former heads of state, and other VIPs, are screened according to the same screening procedures as for any other passenger. If requested, private screening can be provided,” TSA said.]
  • Did Continental Airline have to "Apologize" for this? [Continental Airlines apologises to former President Dr. Kalam for frisking]
  • Wonder if Shahrukh Khan would object to this frisking (by Continental Airlines) too?! Is he VIP enough to be exempt?
  • Who really are India VIPs who are exempt from security checks? Who maintains such a list? (The media was crying loudest about the incident, without providing much clarity). Googling did not get me a list of India’s “exempt specified VIP” wonder if it includes all senior level Babus (There are hundreds of “secretary” level Bureaucrats). What about all Members of Parliament (There are over 500 MPs) All Chief Ministers of all states (over 30 of them) What about Members of state legislature (each state has an average of 200 MLAs, thousands in total in India). And then add to the list CEO’s and executives of large corporations (again hundreds of them) . . . and the super-stars, film-stars et al.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bollywood and global immigration: ShahRukh Khan being “detained” by American immigration officials

A bollywood star is sent for “Secondary Inspection” by US customs and Immigration service and it becomes sensational news. What started as a news item of Mr. ShahRukh Khan being “detained” by American immigration officials turned out to be a routine secondary inspection which even seasoned business travelers, self included, routinely face. And because it was Mr. Khan who was sent for the inspection, it was not just him but fanatic bollywood fans across the globe that were indignant.

A globe trotting American Permanent Resident with an Indian passport, I have been sent for secondary inspection on more than one occasion by officials at port of entry in Canada and the US. All the time, I just shrug my shoulder at the additional scrutiny, answer the additional questions asked and walk across the borders.

While globe trotting executives have accepted this as a matter of routine, the VIPs, VVIPs, superstars seem to be peeved by the need for inspections. The debate here is not really about the right of nations to have immigration inspectors screen people crossing borders but more about the right of the Very Important Persons and celebrities to bypass checks and controls reserved for most other global citizen.

  • Should all hell break loose if a celebrity is sent for a secondary inspection? No!
  • Is this even news worthy? Not unless you happen to be Mr. Khan or his publicist
  • Should every Immigration inspector in every major country know who Mr. Shah Rukh Khan (or every other bollywood star) is? No
  • Should Superstars be accorded special status while crossing borders? Maybe (only if they are at personal security risk)
  • What about all other Very Important Persons (government officials, ministers, Corporate CxOs and everyone else). Give me a list and I will tell you?!

Other bloggers and views on this

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Obama, Globalization and dreams of his father: Fascinating biography and a global perspective and discovery!

I like to carry a paperback or magazines while traveling and I had been carrying – and slowly inching my way through - President Barak Obama’s bestseller “Dreams from My Father” for the past few weeks. The book was in my list of must-read since Obama burst into national and international fame during the democratic primaries a couple of years ago, beating Hillary Clinton in a neck-to-neck race. Like many of my fellow Indian Americans and other cheerleaders of globalization, I have been in awe of the Obama phenomena for a while.

It has been over six months since he was sworn in as the president of America, ushered in with much hope for change. And some, at least in the media seem to be getting over the initial euphoria, the honeymoon phase that newly elected leaders are generally accorded. This, I thought was the perfect time to squeeze some Mojo and finish the book.

I am fascinated by Obama’s candid narrative of his eclectic upbringing and most importantly the way in which he shares intimate details of the discovery of his father’s background.

The early chapters focus on his Origins, a bit about his upbringing in Indonesia, life with his grandparents in Hawaii, getting into the prestigious Punahou school, getting into Harvard; and a young Harvard graduate inspired to work in the projects in Chicago. The second half of the book is on Obama’s journey to Keyna to discover his “Roots,” perhaps a personification of the urge that Blacks in America, and immigrants everywhere have in attempting to discover their backgrounds while trying to reconcile the reality of their present. Obama’s honest description of the skeletons that he discovers in his father’s past, though a bit jarring to my middle-class-Indian-upbringing, makes one reflect on aspects of human relationships.

In the six months since he took over as the president of the “Free World,” Obama has done his fair bit of criss-crossing the globe. However, domestic issues, primarily the economy and healthcare, with the legacy of the “wars” in Iraq and Afghinastan have dominated the President’s agenda; at least when he is not swatting flies or inviting elderly Harvard professors and cops to quell the odd storm in a beer-mug! I guess this is part of what the American citizen elected him to do. But there again, some Americans and most other Global Citizen would love to see him bring his unique perspective and experiences in globalization to the fore.

But there . . . I digress; the book is a must read for those who wish to get a better insight into the mind of Obama.

Now, I must read the Audacity of Hope

ps: My Book Review on Amazon