Airport adventures

Airport adventures

“Remove your watch,” said an official at Muscat International Airport, after I had placed my phone, bangles and glasses on a tray that would sail through a scanner. I tried to undo my watch strap but it refused to come loose. As I fumbled frantically, the delicate chain, which kept the watch from falling while unfastened, got caught in the clasp.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law and family, with whom my husband and I had been staying in Oman, had come to see us off at the airport. By submitting to this preliminary security check along with us, they could enter the terminal. My brother-in-law’s wife deftly disentangled the entwined items and released my recalcitrant wristwatch.

This incident was not as disconcerting as a bizarre occurrence that happened more than three decades ago. En route from Tehran to New Delhi, I was about to board my flight at Dubai, when two armed guards told me to follow them.

They led me to an open area where my baggage, which I thought had been stowed away on the aircraft, lay in an open area. Apparently, a suspicious object had been detected in my suitcase. Unlocking it, I pulled out a circular, metal artifact from Iran. One of my escorts reminded me that the previous year a bomb had caused the crash of Air India Flight 182. “We take precautions for your safety,” he explained.

My husband and I expected to hear something similar when we arrived in Hong Kong, at the height of the H1N1 pandemic. If the medical personnel at the airport did not say that we were under sympathetic surveillance, it was probably because their speech, quite literally, was stifled. Muzzled by masks, they observed us keenly as we disembarked, alert for signs of the fearsome flu. The scenario was reminiscent of one of those  movies, in which a virulent virus runs rampant. Since the slightest sniffle could land us in quarantine, we dared not clear our throats, let alone cough or sneeze, until we cleared the health hurdle.

Our exciting experiences are not confined to entering and exiting alien airports. On one occasion, while flying out of Bengaluru (then Bangalore), our wandering wings were nearly clipped! My husband was recovering from a stroke, when we decided to visit Sri Lanka. Looking at my husband, the officer at the Immigration counter declared that the moustached man in the passport photograph was not the clean-shaven one in the wheelchair. He pointed out that even the signatures on the travel document and the departure card did not match each other.

Eventually, a call to the Principal of Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, where I was a teacher, confirmed that we were not a couple of crooks. That extraordinary episode has so far been the most memorable of our airport adventures.

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