On Wednesday morning I was traveling from Amsterdam to Mumbai via Paris-CDG
. My original ticketed itinerary was KLM from Amsterdam to Paris, connecting to Air France from Paris to Mumbai. Due to a delay on the KLM flight I misconnected and was rerouted by Air France onto Delta's Paris-Mumbai flight. My ticket was a one-way paper ticket issued on KLM stock in Italy the previous day and paid for in cash. It had been revalidated using a handwritten sticker to endorse it over to Delta. I am a Skyteam ElitePlus (KLM Platinum Elite) level member.
I arrived at the Delta counters approximately 15 minutes before checkin was due to close at T-60 minutes. There was the usual security agent working the lines with a palm pilot that had a pre-loaded list of passengers registered for each flight, which obviously my name was not on. He attempted to verify my documentation but after a few comments about machine readable passports being mandatory from October 26 (this is a US entry requirement and not a requirement for India), he realized his error and summoned a security supervisor to continue the screening.
This was where things started to go downhill.
"Would you mind if i asked you some questions?"
"It doesnt make a difference does it? If I said that I minded you'll ask them anyway won't you?"
"Umm yeah, I guess so"
"Where are you going?"
"I'm standing right here"
"I mean what is your destination today?"
"Mumbai, as it says on the ticket you are holding"
"Where did you get this ticket?"
"At the airport in Milan yesterday"
"Why was it issued at the airport?"
"Because thats where the KLM office is"
"Why did you choose to buy it at the airport?"
"Because KLM didnt have a ticket office at the railway station"
"Why did you pay cash for this ticket?"
"Well, they weren't going to give it to me for free"
"Why did you only list for this flight 10 mins ago?"
"If i knew i was going to miss the Air France flight, I wouldn't have booked it in the first place would I?"
"Do you have any checked bags?"
"Where are they?"
"Did you pack them yourself?"
"Have they been out of your control at any time?"
"Ever since I handed them to the airline agents"
"Has anybody other than you ever used your laptop?"
"I let my 16-yr old cousin check his email on Monday morning"
"Are you transporting any items for persons known or unknown?"
"Yes, I am transporting some things for known people - but nothing for unknown people."
"You travel a lot"
"Yes, i do"
"What work do you do?"
"Who do you work for?"
"My company that is based in India"
"Where do you do your work?"
"In our offices or in client offices, depending on the need"
"Where are these offices located"
"All over the world - as you just noted I travel a lot for work"
"When did you arrive in France?"
"20 minutes ago"
"Where did you come from?"
"Amsterdam, as it says on the ticket you are holding"
"Why were you in Amsterdam?"
"That was where I was spending the night"
"Why are you going to India?"
"Because I live there"
"If you live in India, why does your passport show an address in another country?"
"Because I live there too"
"Why do you live in multiple places?"
"Work, as I told you a few minutes ago"
He then starts leafing through my passports and picking on individual stamps.
"When you flew out of India in April, what ticket did you use?"
"A one-way ticket on another airline"
"Who paid for that ticket?"
"Nobody paid for your ticket?"
"Then how did you get the ticket?"
"It was a free ticket"
"So who paid for it?"
"Nobody paid for it - it was free"
"This trip here (pointing to stamps), was this for work?"
"Who paid for your ticket on that trip?"
"Who was the client?"
"None of your business"
"Sir, you have to understand I have a job to do"
"Yes, and you have to understand that I have a job to do too. Part of my job is maintaining my client's confidence - especially in the line of work I'm in where a number of my clients are competitors of your employer"
"Sir, if you dont tell me who paid for your trip I may have to deny you boarding"
"I will answer all questions you may have that are relevant to today's trip and to the ticket that you are holding, but where I traveled and who I worked for and who paid for my tickets in the past is quite frankly irrelevant to today's flight and hence none of your business"
"Fine, then I am denying you boarding"
"Ok, can I have the ticket then so I can go back to Air France and have them rebook me elsewhere"
"I'll send them a message to deny you boarding as well"
At this point I laughed in his face.
"With all due respect, when was the last time that Air France paid attention to ANYTHING a Delta employee had to say, let alone something ridiculous like this?"
Then I walked away back to Air France. They were very apologetic (amazing how much friendlier they are when you explain things to them even in bad French) and not only rebooked me on the next day's flight but also provided me with overnight hotel accomodation at the Sofitel along with almost 100 Euro worth of meals.
I flew on the Air France flight to Mumbai the next morning without any hassles (well, they tried to hassle me about my carryon being 0.4 kg overweight but that was sorted out quickly enough).
I will be taking the matter up with Delta, not as much a complaint as an advisory to them that I feel this line of questioning is inappropriate. There is a fine line drawn between "security" and "privacy" and in my opinion the agent crossed that line. Fortunately, I was in a position where I did not have to compromise my personal convictions in order to travel - I had the option of simply waiting for another flight when I would not have to deal with it.
This entire incident simply reinforced my opinion about the superficial nature of US aviation security and illustrates why US airlines don't get any of my (or my company's) travel dollars anymore.
"The A340-300 may boast a long range, but the A340 is underpowered" -- Robert Milton, CEO - Air Canada