A Study in Process

Adventures in an Indian Airport

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During the Easter holiday my travel included segments on trains by two different companies and on buses by two different companies. Each company has it’s own method of managing tickets, services, delays, and connections. Some of the processes seem better than others, but none are truly wrong or broken. None of these processes had as many steps as traveling through an Indian airport.

When you travel in India, you quickly learn that traveling through an Indian airport is a study in processing. Roughly you go through the following:

  1. ID check against your itinerary at the entrance of the airport. Literally, the entrance.

  2. In some airports all of your bags are then screened by x-ray.

  3. Get your boarding card and drop off your checked luggage. Generally, if you present your itinerary they do NOT check your ID. If there are kiosks, print your own boarding card and go to the bag drop. At this point you must also get a luggage tag for each carryon bag and attach it. You do not need to fill out the tag.

  4. If your bag is overweight you have to take an overweight receipt to a separate counter, pay, and then return to get your boarding card. This may involve crossing a checkpoint. They won’t care that you are the only person in the airport and that they watched you the whole time. Your ID will be re-checked against your itinerary anway.

  5. Go to security. To enter the screening line show just your boarding card, no ID.

  6. A guard supervises you putting your carryon bags on the security scanner conveyor belt. They will rearrange bags, look in bags, and generally make sure things are in order. Laptops are removed. Laptops are placed in separate bins and you are given a bin claim tag. In all other ways, the bags are screened as expected. The luggage tag on your carryon will be stamped by the gaurd after the bag is screened.

  7. Walk through a magnetometer, separated by gender.

  8. Step on to a platform where you get a light pat down and hand metal detector wanding. At this point your boarding card is stamped twice with an ink stamper.

  9. Collect your carryon bags and make sure you have a stamp on the luggage tags.

  10. At some airports you have to show your tickets and luggage tags to a guard to verify they are stamped before you can leave security.

  11. Go to your gate.

  12. Approach the gate and give your boarding card to the agent. Keep your portion.

  13. Show your stamped boarding card and your stamped luggage tags to a guard before you can enter the jet bridge.

  14. Fly.

It is a long and involved process, however it is clear that their priority is verifying every passenger and bag, not constantly re-checking ID. The focus on safe flights and not unrelated law enforcement issues is refreshing. The process is multi-layered, verified multiple times, and transparent. To top it all off, there is no screaming or yelling. The guards are rigid in thought and process but polite in word.

There are definitely security holes, but that is true of every screening process. This process is easier when you have low labor costs. However, I think it is practical and could work in the US. That said, I don’t think Americans could trust a process that doesn’t involve rude employees, constant document checks, and inconveniences like shoe removal.

The big mystery to me is how come the Indian flying public is not covered in ink smears. The stamps used are wet ink stampers and the tickets and tags are all mostly waterproof so the ink smears and takes a long time to dry. Perhaps this inconvenience would be enough to satisfy the American flying public.

Note: This post was edited for grammar, typos and phrasing. A full history is available in the git repository.