Securing Air Passengers against the Threat of Menstruation

Airport Security

Indian airport security is usually pretty lax. Not that they don’t use uniformed military police to check your reservation to allow you admission into the terminal; but generally speaking, entry and egress can be managed easily with a smile and a flimsy excuse. Not that liquids and gels aren’t banned on flights, as elsewhere in the world; but I routinely travel with a liter water bottle, and sometimes my full dop-kit, without being stopped. And one more thing: Sikhs are permitted to travel with swords, which are religious symbols (apparently too valuable to be entrusted to the vagaries of airline baggage handling) as well as unnerving carry-on items.

But as Independence Day approached, and with al Qaeda terror threats on the front page of every newspaper, things got tougher.

How much tougher? To get from the airport curb to the ticket counter requires two checks of ID and reservations papers. All checked luggage is x-rayed and sealed before being taken at check-in. All carry-on bags are x-rayed three times and thoroughly hand-checked at least once, twice for approximately one-in-four passengers. Each passenger goes through metal detection three times: once through the standard gateway, and twice with a hand-held wand. Men and women are separately screened during the wand checks, because these also entail pat-downs.

Today, as we traveled from Bombay to Madras on our way home to Pondicherry, air travel was extremely light because of the Independence Day holiday. The inspector tasked with the hand-search of Yoo-Mi’s carry-on backpack was extremely meticulous; and he had his work cut out for him. She has the habit of packing in a highly segregated way, employing dozens of small zipper cases, pouches, and boxes. I’m a dump-it-all-in-and-fish-around-for-it-later kind of guy; Yoo-Mi is an a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place kind of gal.

Five minutes into his ordeal, he came across a cylindrical zippered case approximately 10 cm long. Inside he found a half-dozen smaller cylinders, each individually wrapped in paper. “What are these?” he demanded to know. “Tampons,” Yoo-Mi told him. “What?” “Tampons,” she said, in a voice loud enough to perhaps embarrass him in front of his fellow inspectors for asking such a silly question. But his ignorance was matched only by his inquisitiveness. “What are they for?” he asked. “For my period,” Yoo-Mi replied evenly. “Your period?” he bellowed, “What is that?” Seeing that she and he sat on opposite sides of a gender-and-culture wall, Yoo-Mi sought assistance from a middle-aged woman standing next to her. “Can you please explain to him what tampons are?” Yoo-Mi asked her. Though the woman spoke perfect English, she too was at a disadvantage: she had never seen a tampon before either. Finally, pulling out her best Indian-English, Yoo-Mi said to the inspector, “I am using this for my monthlies only.” Both he and the woman turned brown-shades of embarrassed, he quickly re-zipped the case and repacked her backpack, and sent her on her way.

The flight would now be secure against acts of terror and menstruation.


15 Responses to “Securing Air Passengers against the Threat of Menstruation”

  1. 1 supermeme 16 August 2007 at 7:02 pm

    Monthlies!! Cute!

  2. 3 ABarclay12 16 August 2007 at 10:43 pm

    This is such a great post. Love the title. Travelers most definitely need to be secure against this threat. Is there a “red” alert? I know about orange alerts, but there needs to be a red menstruation alert if there isn’t already one.

  3. 4 seattlechick 16 August 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Oh fabulous post! That is one vacation story to share with the friends and family, eh?

  4. 5 Clare 16 August 2007 at 11:39 pm

    and i thought they were strict about searches when i was coming home from ireland!

  5. 6 Clare 17 August 2007 at 12:20 am

    ps. i added this post to a list of favorites i have made.. :)

  6. 7 Anita 18 August 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Ha ha ha ha.. This is sooooo funny…I wish I could have seen that security guard’s face. It must have been a picture!

  7. 8 Donna 18 August 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Perhaps Yoo-mi should transport her feminine hygiene products in a more obviously menacing form such as this…

  8. 9 Churni 20 August 2007 at 7:16 am

    In late 2001, in the heightened security alert days of air travel, two of my colleagues, a man and a woman, were traveling together on business within USA. In those days, if you were lucky, the security process would take 45 minutes.
    A TSA agent searched the bags of the lady and found a highly threatening bag of tampons. To this lady’s total embarrassment, he inquired about the use of these menacing-looking explosive devices, and that too, why she was carrying a bunch of them.
    She was asked to explain the exact mechanism for using these devices. When her colleague tried to help her, it only took a turn for the worse, till the only woman agent in charge was called in and the matter was subsequently resolved.
    Needless to say, since that day, the lady has been referred as the “Tampon Terrorist”.
    As usual, it takes over five years for India to catch on to USA!

  9. 10 elektra 6 September 2007 at 11:44 am

    Mark, I CRACKED up at the end of this blog. Too funny!

  10. 11 neeraj 16 December 2009 at 5:38 am

    That’s hilarious man! You have put it so well :-)

  11. 12 Shilpa Garg 17 December 2009 at 8:35 am

    What an experience!! :D
    Very interesting and hilarious expression! :)

  12. 13 temporal 4 January 2010 at 8:08 pm


    nawwab like it too

  13. 14 ummeaaiman 7 January 2010 at 7:11 am

    lol! Protection against menstruation! Sex Ed for the cops please!

  14. 15 Juzar Noorani 12 August 2010 at 6:04 am

    A wonderful post indeed with the details and the sense of humor. Lol. I think they should be including these mighty weapons in their security training as well. Lol

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