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.


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

Man questioned and misses flight for speaking Tamil

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.
Anonymous said…

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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 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.


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.


"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.
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