Friday, February 18, 2022

Detained in airport for 17 hrs.

Detained in airport for 17 hrs.

This could have been the headline until I threatened an international incident. I still lost about 2 hrs at the airport. This is how it started.

I had read about it in a review a while back, but brushed it off as an isolated incident until I ran into it myself.

In India, the ticketing terminal is considered a secure area. Which is understandable because India has a homeless problem, poor problem, 15 people arriving to see one off at the airport problem etc. So the authorities have only allowed ticketed passengers inside the ticketing area at the departure terminal. This is a perfect catch-22 since in order to have a ticket you need to go to the ticketing area but in order to go to the ticketing area, you need a ticket. However, an ID and a printout of a ticket showing a name, date of flight and flight number is considered good enough. You are met with CISF soldiers in full military garb with automatic weapons checking this documentation and letting you in. However, what’s mind boggling is once you are in, your only way out is in an airplane to your destination, or leaving the terminal escorted by the airline personnel with a ton of documentation on why. Flight cancellation, delay etc are acceptable. Nobody wants to do that. In strategy, we call it adding intentional friction to modify user behavior.

I have traveled throughout the world and nowhere one needs to be escorted by officials to leave the terminal. That’s the definition of being in a free country. And I am not even talking about post security. In the rest of the world you can go past security, be at the gate, and then decide to leave. And that’s perfectly fine. All you see is a sign that says in order to get back in you will need to go through security again.

Now in my case, I had a connecting flight the next morning. My Phone did not connect on international roaming so I really wanted to get a ticket printout for the next morning and that’s why I decided to go to the terminal instead of exiting once my current flight had landed. Long story short, my next flight was in the morning so there was no airline staff to escort me out, CISF would not let me out, airport authority (helpdesk) said until I get an airline staff I could not be escorted out (in other words, spend next 17 hrs here), the previous airline that I flew said their responsibility ended once I landed, I should have exited. This went on for about 2 hrs since anyone you talk to, pretends to resolve if for next 30 minutes before getting an answer. All this time Tom Hanks’  “The terminal” was running thru my mind.

In this whole incident though, one thing I am really proud of is how far Airport management has come. Not once there was a talk of money. Had it been 20 years ago when I started flying, a 100 Rs note would have gotten me out in about 2 seconds. But Airport staff and CISF have really upped their game. They were following rules as they were told. However, nobody sat down to understand why those rules were made, and nobody still understands that the rules are made to serve the customers, not the other way round.

In the end I asked the CISF guard to call their commandant, and they were able to reverse the transaction  (take me back to the gate I came thru, re-examine my flight details, and since it was 17 hrs away, I was not allowed to enter the terminal and was let go). I was finally able to go to my hotel, meet the friends I had planned to meet, and then come back the next morning, only to find out I still didn't have a ticket. This time the guard called the airline staff, she came and shared her personal phone’s hotspot so I could connect to the internet and pull my online booking and then was let in. Like I said, a perfect example of a catch-22.

Now, I have no intention of starting a campaign to fix this, this is just an awareness post for anyone traveling to India to know that once you enter a terminal, you will either leave in an airplane, or you never will.

Please feel free to post or share this in the interest of other travelers.

#airport #india #internationaltravel 

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