Chalk marks, baggage handlers, theft

If it hadn’t happened to Rahul Gandhi, would it be news?  Will anything change now that it has happened to Rahul Gandhi?

How many of us have found our bags torn, broken or opened in Indian airports? How many of us have found items missing from checked bags?

I think everyone knows someone to whom such things have happened (if they haven’t happened to us, that is).

Indian airports have a practice I haven’t seen in any US or European airport.  By the time the bags reach the carousel from the plane, they have already been X-rayed and their contents “noted”. A fellow passenger once pointed out to me a “X” mark made in chalk on a bag in the carousel.  “That bag has some valuable stuff”, he said. “They have marked it so the customs guys can ask for extra money from whoever holds that bag.  If this passenger is clever, he will simply wipe the mark with a wet tissue and move on”.

But most people don’t know about this chalk mark trick.  I certainly hadn’t.   As I watched, more bags circled around with “X” marks.  My bag wasn’t one of  them.  My bag, it turned out, was winging its way to another city, but that’s another story.

Baggage Carousel (Pic: Robert S. Donovan/ Flickr)

Baggage Carousel (Pic: Robert S. Donovan/ Flickr)

I don’t see why checked bags need to pass through an X-ray after arriving in India.  After all, these bags have passed through an X-ray in the originating airport, after which no one apart from airline employees have had access to them.  So it certainly cannot be for reasons of security.  But as this column in the Financial Express indicates, the bags do get X-rayed.

The article asks the same question that’s on my mind:

Why do we have this business of X-raying baggage at the time of entry? In some airports, the checked-in baggage will be X-rayed before you can walk through customs. In all airports, hand baggage will be X-rayed. If there is a security issue, surely that is pertinent before you board an aircraft. What is the security issue after you have left the aircraft?

I can understand customs officials passing bags through the X-ray after you have retrieved them, to check for food etc.  when you are with the bag. Isn’t that the best way to do it anyway?  If you think a bag has a quarantined item (like food or plants) or say drugs or weapons, is it wise to merely mark it with an easily erasable (and very visible)  chalk mark and let it go?

The chalk mark trick appears to be well-known in flyer forums and so is the wet tissue wipe-off trick. The popular view in these forums seems to be that the chalk marks are the work of corrupt Customs officials who want to pocket a bribe.  My fellow passenger thought the same way too – why else would they put an easily removable chalk mark, he asked, instead of  say, a sticker or some kind of hard-to-remove tape?

What is clear, though, is that the X-raying does help unscrupulous baggage handlers to filch valuables from bags (now that the X-rays tell them what to look for). And yes, there are lots of unscrupulous baggage handlers out there, as many of us who have found items missing from checked bags know.  But has anyone ever been caught so far?

Well, perhaps because no baggage handler before has managed to steal Rahul Gandhi’s cellphone from his checked bag?

Here is my question – if any of us ordinary souls had reported an item missing from our bags, what are the chances the authorities  would have found the item, or  admitted it was a baggage handler who stole it?

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7 thoughts on “Chalk marks, baggage handlers, theft

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The case of Rahul Gandhi and his stolen cellphone | The Imagined Universe -- Topsy.com

  2. Thanks for the tip on the chalk marks, I never really noticed that before!
    As for catching the baggage handlers, I think the minute we complain at any service desk, the person manning it first expects a little something under the table before they even listen to you.
    And then turn around and say they can’t find it.

  3. a check while leaving an airport is required to make sure you’re not walking in with contraband stuff or with laundered cash. One country cannot trust another country’s security procedures for money laundering or export of drugs.

    checked in baggage is especially targeted for checking. In the US, the authorities will check your baggage in your absence…sometimes will even break open your locks. In India, they are authorised to open open only in front of you so they put a check mark just to be efficient. it is not a signal for corrupt officials.

    • @Yves: Really? No corrupt customs officials? I Wonder how many times you’ve gone through international airports in India.

      I agree with this part though “a check while leaving an airport is required to make sure you’re not walking in with contraband stuff or with laundered cash. One country cannot trust another country’s security procedures for money laundering or export of drugs. “

  4. Pingback: Stealing from Indian women is universal | The Imagined Universe

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