SpiceJet's Kochi fiasco defies logic but what is our level of airport security anyway?

So SpiceJet Flight 154 left behind 40-odd passengers on the tarmac at Kochi and trundled away to takeoff for Mumbai before realising the snafu and returning. In a nation where there are 33 tiers of VIPs officially exempted from security checks and thousands others who use their local position and power to be escorted onto and off aircraft, the whole safety and security aspect is a bit of a joke. A cruel joke but a joke all the same. Even film stars are given the genial once over.

Add to this self-styled VIPs who delay aircraft, take on heavy luggage, block seats and break regulations and the number goes into the thousands. We are a country that worries more about the food on the flight and how the hostesses look than we are about flight safety violations.

As such, this mix up is not really a breach of security as airport security in India is already in a compromised state.

 SpiceJet. AFP

SpiceJet. AFP

In any case, hijackings are now passe and no one even needs a weapon to conduct one. The threat of it is enough. Our passengers carry enough pointy things to simulate a weapon. If one of our VIPs was deranged (not impossible) he could have a mini arsenal on board and you would not know it.

Do you know how many people come to see off a mid-level bureaucrat? I once counted nine flunkeys for a Secretary. I have even refused to get on a plane because some commissioner of police and his wife travelling in civvies were stopped by security and asked to open their handbags. This bruised the ego of the commissioner who yanked out his ID. All the cops immediately stood at attention – you would think they will start playing trumpets. I butted in and said, sorry there is something they want to see in your bag, show it.

Many officers began hissing at me about he was. Don’t care. Open it.

He did, and threw a lot of attitude. I read him the rules laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organization: it is essential that ministers and other officials set an example to the travelling public and officers on duty by voluntarily submitting their persons and effects for security clearance.
India is signatory to the ICAO diktat and yet, the whole idea of a pompous minister actually raising his hands and being patted down is ludicrous in our context.

Which is why the SpiceJet incident does not worry me from the point of view of security. Any one of our planes can be taken if someone has a mind to do the dirty. I was on a flight from Delhi last week and the crew came onto the flight deck an hour late because their vehicle had gone to fetch the wrong co-pilot with the same name from another location. The door to the flight deck was wide open for 45 minutes.

What is worrying is the incompetence that led to these passengers being on a bus in the rain even as the Boeing 737 began to taxi. The dramatic breakdown in communications, the failure to do a head count, the imbalance in the flight manifest, the confusion between the flight deck and the cabin crew and then their collapse of data exchange with ground crew is farcical. Then add to it the ‘lock door’ command without the standard ‘boarding completed’ confirmation being given first makes it like a Marx Brothers comedy.

An airline that has no explanation for such a goof up and allows every safety net to fail in boarding its passengers needs to be thoroughly reviewed.

The only possible explanation — and there is no evidence of it yet — is that because of the rain and the bus being stranded, a lack of communication led the ‘dropped’ passengers to be marked as no shows and the plane left without them. In which case, we had on board luggage from 40 passengers who were not on the flight. That, yes, is a massive breach of security and safety.

Think about that.

Think about this, too. You cannot lose a bus at the airport. It is not a dinky toy.

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Updated Date: May 17, 2016 18:05:03 IST

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