On “routine” frisking and unapologetic apologies

I am glad Continental Airlines has finally apologized for frisking former President APJ Abdul Kalam. I was quite shocked at the airlines’ earlier statement, where they had stood by their decision to frisk, citing that it was standard TSA requirement.

The frisking might have been a mistake, but standing by it only made things worse for Continental.

To start with, the incident happened in India, not in the US, and TSA certainly has no jurisdiction in India. An airline can follow TSA requirements as long as it does not conflict with local laws. Obviously, when Continental had a specific notification from the Govt. of India as to whom not to frisk while in India, isn’t that the law they were supposed to follow?

Secondly, TSA requirements in the US do ask you to remove your shoes and pass through a metal detector. But the hand-held wand and the full body check that Abdul Kalam underwent is not routine practice here in the US; it is only done if you are singled out for additional screening. TSA may have a more stringent practice for international travelers, but again, that would be a practice, not a law, and I cannot see how any airline would willfully ignore local laws to the contrary.

Besides, for all the moral high ground that Continental was taking about how they were only following standard TSA requirements and treating everyone equally, I strongly suspect that they would never have treated a former US President the same way (the Secret Service coverage alone would probably have ensured that).

I am a little surprised that no Continental Airlines employee in Delhi recognized the former President – surely Continental has some Indian employees?

Finally, I wonder how an Indian owned airline like Jet Airways would have handled the situation. Would it have ignored the Indian Govt.’s rules and stuck to TSA requirements? Would it have been quicker to apologize for the lapse? Your thoughts?

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24 thoughts on “On “routine” frisking and unapologetic apologies

  1. Obviously, when Continental had a specific notification from the Govt. of India as to whom not to frisk while in India, isn’t that the law they were supposed to follow?

    Does this notification exist, if yes then Continental is clearly to blame. I wasn’t aware of any such notification and hence had initially supported their right to frisk Abdul Kalam.

  2. I personally felt humiliated as an Indian when I came to know about the frisking incident, not sure if the hurt would have been the same if somebody other than Dr Kalam was involved.
    Sagarika Ghose article could interest you -http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/sagarikaghose/223/53711/dont-you-know-i-am-a-vip.html . She has written about the security check carried out on Tony Blair in Srilanka although I don’t think it can be compared to frisking.

    • I am not sure I feel humiliated because Kalam was frisked – is it so humiliating to be frisked? At any Indian airport, I have been subjected to the wand every time I boarded a plane, all my bags have been opened in public, even my hand bag is opened and every compartment checked. These things are routine in India, and don’t happen to me in US airports. If I don’t find these things humiliating and am willing to go with them, I don’t see why frisking Kalam per se is bad. Basically my only issue is that Continental wilfully flouted an Indian rule, while talking about how they were actually following rules.

      I do agree with Sagarika that far too many so-called VIPs in India demand special treatment at the drop of a hat.

  3. Insolence. The Americans have been known to refer to India as “the largest unimportant country in the world”. Still, APJ handled himself with admirable poise and dignity, taking this in his stride.

    That said, Continental definitely needs to pay for it. I hope the government pushes really hard

    • I agree APJ handles himself with poise and tact, and refused to make an issue of it. I wonder how it would have been if it was someone else on the same list?

  4. This is apalling. If ‘United breaks guitars, Continental can go very very far’ ! This is insulting, to say the least.

    But there is this other side too. The man himself hasnt bothered. And has gone about his life with a normalcy that was best exemplified during his term as president. I wonder how a Mayawati or a Mulayam Singh would have reacted.

      • The United/guitar incident demonstrates that US run airlines treat everybody equally crappy regardless of race, religion, country, or social/political rank. On the other hand it also demonstrates the differences in how the two cultures deal with the mistreatment. One does something creative, reaches out to the public and gets results. The other whines, pouts, complains, and threatens. What a waste.
        By the way, what is such a distinguished man like Dr. Kalam doing flying on a public flight? The Indian govt should arrange chartered or government flights for his travel. The US govt does that with its exPresidents out of respect and security. It also bypasses the airport frisking. It’s hard to say which is more incompetent and disrespectful – the Indian govt or Continental. Although I’d have to give Continental the nod for being more security concious.

      • I think there’s been somewhat of a change in culture when it comes to US air pasengers. For the most part, we’ve learned to accept the inconvenience of security checks for the sake of safety. In a way it’s kind of sad. There are other reasons to complain about US air service and some still complain but the majority realizes it is pointless and a waste of breath. Dave Carroll complained and it got him nowhere until he took it to another level. But the broken guitar was more about $$$. Nobody seems to give a care about inconvenience and a lack of respect when it comes to air travel nowadays. Very, vey sad.

  5. APJ once again proved that he is beyond petty squabbles. Dignified

    Indian air carriers wouldnt have frisked anyone who even knows an MP. Simple

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  7. Like Prerna says, I felt humiliated too. I fear other forms of ridiculous claims and theories don’t crop up. Its great Dr. Kalam was gracious, but that should not treated as an excuse to override a stated protocol.

  8. While I felt bad about ex prez APJ Abdul Kalam being frisked I want this to be precedent and have the likes like Lalu Prasad and Mayawati frisked. Kalam saheb made no fuss and recistered no complaint. I wonder what these guys would do.

  9. Another serious case of racial profiling. Continental Airlines should not have done this in the first place. Staff’s should be trained – if not local – and given information about local dignitaries, if they are so ill-informed. I ditto your comment about US president or vice. The same thing happened to SRK in Newark airport in US yesterday. Very appalling. A serious case of racism by the US.

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