Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Airport Security in India Versus United States

Traveling internationally is always a jolly fun time with security. But the level of stringent security in Dehli, India was a wee bit different than our friends in the TSA.

Last week I gad the privelege of traveling to New Delhi, India for business. While wholly remarkable in many ways (the food!), a singularly non-American moment came in the airport en route back to the US.

Airport security, and immigration security, vary wildly between countries. The TSA in the United States was created in the wake of 9/11, citing the need for increased security. That agency’s effectiveness has undoubtedly contributed to the lack of airline-related terrorist threats, despite tests showing their training and processes have a 95% failure rate.

Exhibit A: Dehli Security

I’ve flown internationally several times over the past few years, but traveling home from Delhi was a whole new level of security. For posterity and comparison, here is a summary of what it takes to actually get on an airplane back to the States:

  1. Before your car can even reach the terminal, it passes through three blockaded checkpoints. Not every car was searched – we were waved through thanks to the experience of my native driver — but plenty were.
  2. After you get dropped off at the curb, but before you can literally walk in the door, a security officer — armed with the kind of shitkicker 14-eye boots, machine guns and perfectly angled berets you don’t mess with — checks your passport and printed itinerary.
  3. Ten feet later, inside the terminal, another equally armed security officer checks your passport again.
  4. Then you check into your flight via your airline’s kiosk. An airline rep checks your passport and visa, and you receive a paper boarding pass and paper tag for your carry-on.
  5. Then you move through the immigration line. The officer asks a few questions, gives you that look (you know the one), checks your passport and visa, then stamps your boarding pass. (You do not want to lose the paper boarding pass. Boarding pass via mobile device is not a thing here.)
  6. Then there’s physical security. Shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty. All carry-ons are screened, and their tags stamped. After you show your passport, your boarding pass is stamped again. Every person passes through a scanner and gets a mandatory wand treatment and pat-down by a security officer.
  7. After that, you’re inside the terminal, with plenty of duty-free shops and a long walk to the gate. But the actual gate has a complete additional security line. Shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty. Another pat-down by another security officer. Any water you bought inside the terminal is confiscated (even if the cap is still sealed). Bags are rescanned and re-stamped, and your boarding pass is stamped and ripped. Once you’re inside the gate, surrounded by plexiglas, there’s no leaving.
  8. One more time showing your well-stamped boarding pass before getting on the plane.
  9. Swallow some narcotics and sleep for 14.5 hours.

Exhibit B: Newark Security

By comparison, the security procedure from the US (Newark, NJ, to be precise) flying to Delhi is about half the steps:

  1. At check-in for bags and boarding passes, an airline rep verifies passport and valid visa. (From the US, you can’t fly to India without a visa.)
  2. One security line (shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty) checks passport and boarding pass. No physical pat-down.
  3. Gate attendants check paper boarding pass, passport and visa before allowing you on the plane.

In summary:

CheckpointUnited StatesIndia
Car security03
Passport checked36
Visa checked21
Itinerary checked01
Boarding pass checked24
Carry-on scanning12
Physical pat-downs02
Total discrete validation points819

I don’t have enough geopolitical knowledge or diverse international travel experience to draw meaningful analysis. Regard this as anecdotal.

But it was interesting to me that my country, so politcally paranoid about terrorism, has far less stringent person-to-person airline security1 than a country embedded in a region where terrorism is an actual daily reality. (Two week before I left, the Taliban exploded a bomb in a park in Lahore, Pakistan, killing more than 70 and injuring almost 300 — by intent, many of them children. Lahore is just across the Indian border and 425 kilometers from Delhi. This is closer than Boston, MA is to Washington, DC.)

Would US citizens tolerate such time (2+ hours) and checkpoints? After witnessing years of childish impatience at the mere suggestion of inconvenience for the sake of security, I’m not sure.

1 I am specific in person-to-person security, because I have no doubt highly trafficked international US airports like Newark are full of cameras, face recognition software, pre-cogs and other “behind the glass” technology that helps thwart threats.

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