August 18, 2011

A stamp-happy country

India is all about some stamps.  Not the postage variety, not tramp stamps, but ink-on-paper stamps.  Apparently, it makes everything legitimate.  And for some odd reason, this completely fascinates me.  The best example I have of this is my domestic flight experience this past weekend where we flew from Delhi to Aurangabad.  I'll compare the domestic US flight experience with the domestic India flight experience:

1.  Online check-in
  • US:  Got your boarding pass already?  Great - go straight to security so fewer people have to deal with you.
  • India:  Got your boarding pass already?  *Golf clap*  You still have to come to the ticket counter because we have to stamp it.  If we don't stamp it, it's not a real boarding pass.
2.  Security checkpoint and carry-on items
  • US:  Take your shoes off or we'll whisk you aside and strip search you.  Take your 3-oz liquids out of your luggage because we enjoy watching you get pissed off.  And now that we've looked at your luggage and a grainy image of your body, put your clothes back on and get out of our way.
  • India:  We don't care to look carefully at your shoes or your bag of liquids.  Shoot, you can keep your giant bottle of water for all we care.  BUT - you have to put these paper tags on each piece of carry on luggage, and we have to stamp them when they come out of the x-ray machine.  If you don't have the tag with a stamp, you might be a terrorist.
3.  Boarding at the gate
  • US:  You have a boarding pass with the right flight number?  Good.  Get out of my way and go sit in your seat.  And don't you dare put your jacket in the overhead bin.
  •  India:  You have a boarding pass with the right flight number?  Ok, that's a start.  Wait - is it stamped...?  Oh, there it is, ok.  Now give me your ID - ok, the names match.  Let me check that boarding pass stamp one more time - ok, it's still there.  Now show me your luggage tags - do they have the Security Stamp of Approval?  Good.  But you still need another stamp.  Go over to this table so these nice people can halfheartedly hand-search your carry-ons and put yet another stamp on the luggage tags.  Great.  You may now wander all over the tarmac in the general direction of that plane over there.  Once you are done with your tour of the tarmac, please proceed to the bottom of the staircase leading up to the door of the plane so that yet one more person can check your boarding pass to make sure it's stamped.  You may now get on the plane and find your seat.
4.  Stopping at another city enroute to final destination (i.e., a direct flight, but not a non-stop flight)
  • US:  Whatever.  Just stay on the plane and don't bother us.  Get up, go to the stinky pantry-sized bathroom, do anything you like except exit the aircraft.
  • India:  You must wait for everyone getting off at this city to deplane.  Now you must stay in the general area of your seat until you confirm which carry-on items are yours because we have to put an "In Transit" sticker on each item.  No, you cannot use the bathroom until you have the official "In Transit" stickers on all your items.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect 200 rupees.  WAIT FOR THE STICKER GUY.
5.  Deplaning at destination
  • US:  Whatever.  Just get out of here.
  • India:  Wait!  You are not allowed off the aircraft until we check your boarding pass - again - and make sure that you have the appropriate stamp on it - again.  Ok, you're good to go.  You may exit the aircraft now.  
By the time we landed, I was in possession of one boarding pass stamp, 2 carry-on luggage security stamps (really, 4 stamps since I had 2 small bags), and one in-transit sticker. My boarding pass was checked 6 times.  I am SO legit!

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