Doing Their Level-Best

Swiss Army Knife

If air travel in India sucks, it is generally because India has learned too much from the US and Europe, rather than too little. Sure, there are some distinctively Indian annoyances. Passengers deplane in a mad scrum for the aisle-way, as if they were disembarking a Mumbai commuter train and had someplace to be other than killing time in front of the baggage claim carrousel. And once at baggage claim, travelers press forward with their luggage carts in complete disregard for the inconvenience they cause each other. But generally, the whole process looks all-to-familiar to anyone accustomed to post-9/11 air travel in the US.

And yet, today we found two aspects of Indian air travel that American carriers and the dreadful Transportation Safety Administration would do well to emulate.

This afternoon we flew from Chennai to Mumbai. Yoo-Mi had forgotten about the Swiss Army knife she keeps in her purse – for impromptu picnicking and other acts of terrorism – and it was detected in the scan of her carry-on bags. The security people duly placed it in an envelope, noting her flight and seat number, and advised her that it she could claim it in Mumbai.

Naturally, the envelop never reached Mumbai. In checking with the airline’s baggage office, we were advised that knives confiscated by security rarely, if ever, were actually sent on. “I understand that in the US, they throw them straight into the dustbin,” commented the agent, who was assisting us. “This seems so wasteful. We have a number of knives that have been collected from security here in Mumbai only. Why don’t you take one of these?”

The offer was so kind and so practical, we had to do a double-take to confirm that it was actually being uttered by an airline employee.

The agent unlocked a cupboard and pulled out a plastic box of 8 – 10 liters, stuffed with contraband taken from carry-on bags. In order to dig down to the “Swiss knives,” he removed four handguns from the top of the box, and then presented Yoo-Mi with a fine selection of pocket knives. She chose an excellent four-function Victronix.

Wouldn’t it be a simple, excellent thing for the TSA to issue a small voucher to each passenger who forfeited their pen knife through inadvertence or absent-mindedness, so that they could collect one at their destination, if there happened to be one in the security hopper?

Yoo-Mi thanked the agent profusely. “We do our level-best, madam,” said the agent modestly.

Doing one’s “level-best” is the other lesson of which US airline personnel might take note.

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4 Responses to “Doing Their Level-Best”


  1. 1 JV 31 January 2007 at 10:04 am

    When I read first line, I thought yet another foreigner criticising India. But when I completed the post, I smiled myself about your ‘level-best’ experience. (I had too, read twice)

  2. 2 Hiren 31 January 2007 at 8:15 pm

    In India, only severe competition can enable good service and I am glad the arilines are forced to perform.

  3. 3 diana 4 February 2007 at 5:35 am

    Hey good to know Yoo-Mi got the new knife :-)

  4. 4 Anita 14 February 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Ah. this is some consolation. My swiss army knife got taken at the Mumbai airport. Though the security man suggested I request the airlines to take it and give it to me at Hyderabad, the airlines refused.

    Now going by your account, it is either still in that box or has been given to someone else.


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