US airport experience:Upset Patel for quid pro quo



New Delhi: Stung by his "annoying" experience at London-Heathrow and Chicago's O'Hare airports in the recent past, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has mooted a quid pro quo policy over the issue of extending courtesies and protocols to visiting foreign VIPs.

Patel has directed his Ministry to suggest to the External Affairs Ministry that this policy be adopted for protocols on a country-to-country basis in the same manner as the courtesies extended to Indian dignitaries abroad.

The two Ministries are now working on framing a fresh policy guideline for visiting dignitaries, both on official and private visits, officials said here today.

The directive came after the Minister was questioned by US immigration officials at O'Hare Airport late last month after his name and date of birth matched with that of another person reportedly on watch-list. US Administration officials had later apologised for the mistake.

Patel had the "annoying" experience at Heathrow in London in March this year when he had gone for a review meeting and was later slapped a bill of Pound 416 for using the lounge at the new Terminal 5.

A senior official said Patel has suggested that "equivalent charges be levied, on a reciprocal basis, with all those countries whose airports charge for use of their VIP lounges".

In a letter to the External Affairs Ministry, the Civil Aviation Ministry said Patel has also recommended that the MEA should consider "differentiating between the use of the lounge by foreign VIPs for official and private purposes, and, should a lounge be used during a private journey, appropriate charges be levied upon the individual concerned".

Recalling his March experience at the Heathrow airport, the letter said that on arrival itself, the Minister "observed the impractical reception system for VIPs upon commissioning of Terminal 5 as compared to the earlier system of reception of VIPs at that airport".

"This added inconvenience apart from being annoyingly time-consuming and involving extra travel, it also entailed a payment of GBP 416 per use of that terminal", the letter said.

Sources close to the Minister confirmed that the Standard Operating Procedure similar to the one in practice should be drawn separately for each nation.

So far, India has been extending all courtesies and related protocols to visiting dignitaries at the country's airports wherever they travelled, even when they were on private visits. No charges are levied when these dignitaries access VIP lounges at airports.

India also exempts foreign VIPs from security checks, a policy which could now be reviewed, the sources said.

There have been several instances of Indian leaders including George Fernandes being searched in the US in the past.

-PTI