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Cargo bay may be best place for passengers bearing arms

December 27, 2001

Cargo bay may be best place for passengers bearing arms



Lining up to board a Buddha Airlines flight in a small airport in Nepal, you have to hold your luggage and stand on an ancient mechanical scale with a big round face and a revolving arrow that points to the weight.

A man with paper and a scratch pad keeps a running total of the kilos, making sure there's at least a three in five chance the plane won't be too overloaded to fly.

That gets your attention. What gets your attention more is a warning sign in the airport of items not permitted on a flight: firearms, knives, explosives, blow-guns, spears ...

Spears? Well. Then they take you individually into a cloth-draped cubicle about the size of a voting booth for a personal questioning and inspection. There, Westerners try to explain that it's not a spear, it's a ski pole and it's not a blow-gun, it's a clarinet and so on.

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I bring this up in light of the Nepalese chap who apparently just didn't get the message. He was detained in Chicago last week for trying to board a flight with seven knives, a stun gun and a can of Mace.

He was stopped, but not before he got past the first security checkpoint, even after inspectors found two of the knives in his pockets. They patted him on the head a la Cindy Lou Who and sent him on his way, not finding the other five knives in his carry-on bag.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation called it a "failure of dramatic dimensions." The airline proudly called the incident "comforting" in that Subash Bahadur Gurung, 27, was finally detained before he ever boarded a plane with the weaponry.

Subash told authorities he carried the weapons for his own protection, and meant to check them with his bags. He said it "was all a mistake."

I believe him. No really, I do. The Nepalese are among the gentlest people on earth. Well, at least until one of their crazy princes goes loco and shoots up the royal family and all of Katmandu takes to the streets, half of them protesting that the affair is being covered up, the other half protesting that it's not being covered up enough. Eventually a new incoming shipment of cola products will calm things down, but it makes for a dicey couple of days.

I just don't see a man from Nepal buying into the terrorism circuit. It would be like a Quaker standup comic. They may be out there, but you sure don't hear about them much.

You can't even work up a good argument with a Buddhist. They agree with everything you say, while disagreeing. It's the most maddening thing in the world. A gentleman who spent time in Nepal mentioned to me once that he's tried with no luck to convince them our astronauts walked on the moon. No man had besmirched mistress moon, they calmly stated. "But we have photos of men on the moon," he would say, to which they would reply "Yes. But it is a different moon."

Anyway, my problem with one airline has nothing to do with security. I'm upset with them because on a flight home from Germany this summer the baggage handlers lost my sleeping bag and slit my backpack to ribbons.

So naturally I would rather sit next to a Nepalese with a Tommy gun than a baggage handler with a paper clip.

I didn't lodge a complaint because I had spent the past 24 hours in train stations, airports and planes and was too wiped out to argue.

But seeing as how this airline can't seem to catch an armed man and can't seem to care for luggage, there seems only one thing for this airline to do: Carry the baggage in the relative comfort of the passenger cabin and lock the traveling public in the cargo bay.

Tim Rowland is a columnist for the Herald-Mail.

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