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To Fight Terror, First Stop Getting Terrorised

By his own admission, UBL got some 2,500 innocent citizens killed in the bombings of 9/11, including of the World Trade Centre twin towers. America knew he was coming for them, but did not know how, where and precisely when. We seem to have a better understanding of all of that today, except maybe when. And yet, our lives have not got simpler, just more painfully difficult. Let me narrate an incident that's still fresh in my mind.

Between last night and this morning, I spent approximately two hours at security lines between Mumbai (Bombay) international airport and London Heathrow airport. If you think security in India is tight, you’ve got to see this and what it can do. It took me two hours to transfer from one terminal to another and I made it to my connecting flight to Munich with five minutes to spare. The only reason I was accepted is my luggage was on board.

Fifteen other passengers were not so lucky. Their baggage was offloaded as we sat in the aircraft. Like me, they all had confirmed tickets and someone waiting for them at Munich. And it was not their fault they were late. “We will put them on the next service,” the captain of the British Airways flight announced cheerfully. I am sure they did not similarly when they landed at the gate.

Banking On Averages

I arrived in Munich almost three hours later (the flight was an hour late) to discover BA had misplaced my only suitcase. The amazing thing was there was a Lost Baggage counter right next to the baggage carrousel. I’ve never seen one so close and so strategically located. Its like every airline that arrives at Munich usually forgets a few pieces of luggage behind. Not surprisingly, our half-full Airbus A320 had seven or eight people standing for lost luggage.

That’s still not the issue. Baggage gets lost I guess. Actually this is the first time its happened to me. So from a law of averages perspective, Im doing okay. The BA lady at Munich was pleasant and helpful. She ran my numbers through the computer and said the baggage would arrive in a few hours. She promised to deliver it to the hotel by late evening, despite it being 150 km away in a Bavarian village.

So what’s my grouse ? Its like this. I usually carry my toiletries in my hand baggage, along with my laptop and other electronics. Thanks to this heightened state of alert where toothpastes and shaving creams are seen as explosive material or triggers for the same, every bit of toiletry has to be thrown out. I thought I would use the small toothbrush and toothpaste that BA gave me on the first leg at Heathrow.

The Fear Of Terror

No way. I was running all the time, or standing in lines. The last line was the security check to enter Terminal 1 where I had to chuck the little tootpaste and toothbrush into a huge bin. What I thought was a 45-minute process of transferring between terminals took two hours, resulting in the last minute dash into the connecting flight. So, here I am in Munich, with no extra clothes and no toiletries. And no time to brush my teeth !

And that's my point. Terrorism or the fear of it has made us alert and aware of a whole new world out there. Its put on us guard. That is very good. I know why the United Kingdom is on high alert but now its getting a little ridiculous. Even Indian airports are following the same security rules whether or not the threat perception is the same. Fear obviously spreads faster than anything else. And Im not saying this because I had to run around for tootpaste and shaving cream.

Some of my fellow delegates from India told me they had vowed not to transit through Heathrow till things settled down. Guess I should have been a little smarter about this. But then that's precisely the point. We can’t get so scared that we make our own lives so miserable and difficult. Or keep configuring and reconfiguring our existence because of some madman sitting in a cave and plotting the world's end.

Comments

Arun Cavale said…
Hi Govind,

Leaving a comment here after long.

I have had similar experience - and i think its got less to do with the airport, and more with the airline: BA..I suppose being the national carrier, BA shows "extra" eagerness in going to ridiculous lengths all in the name of security...And it appears that the notion of customer "service" is subsumed under all the bureaucracy..

Try 9W next time...i did recently, and found it fab.

Actually, i suppose it is best to avoid flying the national carriers of any country, if you are flying to that country.
bombay_girl said…
Dear Govindraj,

Hey, it’s been long time. How are you?

Well I can imagine what it must have been.

This brings back some bad memories. I was the unfortunate one traveling from Lucknow to Mumbai on friday, just a day after the terrorist plot to blow up planes mid-air was foiled. I was traveling on an 8 pm Sahara flight, which was to come from Delhi, as there are no direct flights.

After reaching the airport I was informed the flight is delayed and every hour it was religiously postponed. The reason, Delhi airport is in a chaos and hence the flight has not taken off from there. Also there was an announcement that you are not allowed any hand baggage at all. I was already carrying a purse and a laptop, which they insisted I should check in. With my waning patience I tried to reason with them that it’s impossible for me to check in my laptop. Finally the bargain was that all the accessories and wires etc to go in my luggage and I am to carry only the machine nothing else.

I kept reading and finally at 11 pm the flight was announced. When I went for my security check the security staff first wouldn’t allow me to take my laptop on board and then checked my laptop thoroughly as if he was some ATS detective. Then even at the cost of not being allowed on flight I asked him, “Are you an IT expert and how much do you really know about computers? Why are you unnecessarily harassing people like this?”

I don’t know whether it was my temper, irritation of other passengers or simply his lack of knowledge that shamed him. But I went through without any further hassles and with a lot of smiles from my fellow passengers.

Can you imagine, laptops being checked in. I think the insurance companies will be the first to protest against this.

Happy Traveling

Mrigaya
Shweta said…
Hi Govind,
Here's another example of paranoia and absurdity...

Man questioned and misses flight for speaking Tamil
By BRAD WONG

A 32-year-old man speaking Tamil and some English about a sporting
rivalry was questioned at Sea-Tac Airport and missed his flight Saturday
because at least one person thought he was suspicious.

The Port of Seattle dispatched its police officers to investigate the
case, which occurred Saturday around noon, said Bob Parker, airport spokesman. The Chicago man was preparing to board an American Airlines flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The man was speaking Tamil, a language largely used in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore, on his cell phone at the departure gate and on the aircraft. An off-duty airline employee heard the conversation and informed the flight crew.

The man also apparently said something in English about a sporting rivalry at his alma mater.

"It's a big misunderstanding," said Parker. "He had a perfectly innocent explanation that all added up."

Parker said it is incumbent on airport officials to investigate reports of suspicious activity.

"It's hard to triage over the phone," he said.

But Parker had no explanation as to why a man speaking Tamil, which is spoken worldwide, would be considered suspicious. The person who contacted airport officials could give an answer to that question, he added.

Parker said the man was cooperative and boarded a later flight to Texas.

He told officials that he would not speak in a foreign language on his cell phone at an airport in the future.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/287261_tamil02ww.html
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Anonymous said…
Hi All

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I would have liked to go 9W..the problem is connections beyond. Have heard good things about the Lon-Bom sector.

Meanwhile, my baggage did arrive, early next morning, delivered to my hotel by BA..

Munich airport is a dream. Security check was over in seconds..no shoes into X Ray machine incidentally..

Mrigaya, am surprised to hear about the laptop thing..never happened or seen it happen. Its not in any negative list.

Cheerio

GE
Anonymous said…
Hi Govind,

Greetings! I was wondering if you've an e-mail address I can send you a proposal through? At any rate, good luck with the rest of the travels, and your blog has been a great read through the boring days at the office.

Thanks!

Eleanor
eleanor.uy@terrapinn.com
"TERRORISTS & TERRORISM ARE NO LONGER ALIEN TERMS BUT A REALITY". This is what modern man has to accept. In India with our 'chalta hai' attitude, security measures are not so stringent.
No doubt things are hotting up even in our country, but only upto a certain point.
America & Britain, had ignored these issues so long as it did not affect them. But once the blast hit them, their reaction was to the extreme.
The worst affected are the travellers, but if every one points out their problems, I am sure the airlines and the country concerned will definitely do something.
The point is, "KEEP ON POINTING OUT SUCH FLAWS"

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