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Bon Voyage?

Reema Sisodia investigates the phenomenon called airport crime

Ashok Singhvi, general manager - marketing of a multinational, was returning to Mumbai after a business trip to Europe. After stepping out of the airport, he noticed that his driver was not there to receive him. He left his baggage and walked towards the car park to see if his car was there. When he turned, his luggage was gone.

Recently outside Milan Airport, Preeti Shah (name changed), systems specialist, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was a victim of bag lifting. As she was waiting outside for a taxi, a woman threw chocolate sauce and snatched the briefcase which contained documents, cash and credit card.

Mala Rastogi was coming from New York to Mumbai with her life’s savings in the form of gold jewellery and other valuables. At New York, the officials told her to deposit her valuables in the check-in baggage. It turned out to be the worst advise she received in her life. When she reached Mumbai airport, all the goods had been taken and replaced with foreign chocolates.

Rohan Mehta was at the check-in counter of an airport when a well-dressed and eloquent fellow passenger accosted him and struck up a conversation. In the aeroplane, Mehta found that his palm-top and gold cigarette case was missing. Later, the airport’s CCTV showed that the fellow passenger had robbed him.

To name a few things the business traveller of today has to guard himself against: bag lifting, baggage tampering, pilferage, touting, and money exchange rackets. Though the modus operandi changes from airport to airport, in Indian airports the primary problem is that of touting and the harassment and crime which these touts foster. Their modus operandi ranges from passenger harassment at the taxi service region to creating an artificial scarcity of trolleys and then charging a fee to provide one.

Said a source from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), under whose jurisdiction the law and order in most Indian airports have fallen since the heightening of terrorist threats, “Overcrowding outside airports is the primary reason for touts to flourish. The solution is to streamline traffic movement and clearing the area outside the airport.”

Bag-lifting and bag tampering are other common crimes which cut across countries. Poor lighting in the car park area is a major cause of muggings and thefts.

R Khanna, (name changed) from a leading industrial house, offers some solutions. He says, “A more efficient baggage handling machinery is required. A proper check, especially with respect to recruitment and appointment of loaders and ground handling staff, is essential to ensure the safety of passengers. The cumbersome process of lodging a complaint also need to be simplified. Providing additional staff to facilitate faster service at check-in, customs and immigration counters, would ease the queues which indirectly foster crime. Passengers also need to be alert.”

Sudhir Kumar, airport director, Airports Authority of India, Mumbai says the crime rate has reduced but passengers
need to be proactive.

“To improve airport efficiency, a number of changes have been introduced at Mumbai airport such as installation of CCTVs at strategic points, surprise inspections and rounds, mock drills, disguised officers on patrol, introducing the system of registering the name of each loader and ground handling staff. But we would be grateful if passengers bring to our notice any misdeeds involving officials. Passengers must not leave bags unattended, seek help from unauthorised persons or encourage the giving of unreasonable amounts in the form of tips.”
A CISF official said, “Presence of mind and alertness are a must for the traveller of today. Passengers should not take people at face value. Be guarded and aware at all times. It is better to be safe than be sorry. All expensive goods should always be carried in the accompanied baggage rather than in the check in baggage.”
Business travellers say Mumbai airport has become safer. “The urchins’ problem outside the arrival section has decreased to an extent. But there are still a number of hurdles. Installing new machines and introduction of state-of-the-art gadgets would bring in greater efficiency,” said Khanna.

Mohan Mane, senior inspector of police, Sahar Airport Police Station, Mumbai, said , “Incidences of crime at the airport has definitely reduced in the last few months”

General Safety Tips
  • Carry valuables in the accompanied luggage and not the check-in baggage
  • Be alert and guarded, do not take people at face value
  • Don’t leave baggage unattended
  • Don’t entertain conversations with unofficial loaders, unauthorised officials and touts
  • Book transport such as cars or cabs from official pre-paid counters or reservation centres
  • Please don’t encourage tipping, especially to the airport staff. If they demand a certain sum, take down their number and report the same to the authorities concerned
  • In case of an emergency, directly report immediately to officials such as the airport manager or the CISF (airport security unit) which in turn will pursue the matter further.
  • Seek help of the tourism police
  • If one observes or notices any questionable object or person, please report to the concerned officials at the earliest, which is an act of public interest
  • It is important for passengers to know that after one crosses the board that reads ‘No checks beyond this point’, the passenger is free from all formalities and need not show any of his documents for checking if asked
  • Do lodge an FIR

Provided By AAI, CISF and state police

Modus Operandi

  • Touting: Outside the airport, touts harass passengers claiming to offer transportation, accommodation and other services
  • Baggage Tampering: The loaders, while transferring the baggage from the aircraft to the ground, pilfer the belongings
  • Unofficial Money Exchangers: They either don’t give you the right exchange rate, or give you false notes or just take your money and run away
  • Bag Lifting: Usually flourishes due to negligence of passengers

Demands and expectations of the business traveller

  1. Control overcrowding outside the airport
  2. Improve the systems and bring in technically trained staff, with an attitude toward customer service.
  3. Streamline the process of lodging an FIR and also the follow-ups associated with the same
  4. The officials responsible for airport safety and security need to be more proactive with a passenger friendly attitude
  5. The procedures at the check-in counters, immigration, customs and security need to be further streamlined
  6. The car park areas need to be well lit and the process of the pre paid taxi service or the queue system must be streamlined