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.