Forging Airline Tickets for Fun and Public Service

Dispatches from India – part 3
By Anu Garg

After a week in India attending a wedding, I was ready to head home to Seattle. As I approached the entrance to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, I had my passport and my travel cheat-sheet out. I knew you need a passport and a copy of your itinerary even to enter an airport in India. The security guard at the entrance inquired, “Passport and ticket?”
I handed him my passport and cheat-sheet on which I cram all my travel information (itinerary, frequent flier numbers, phone numbers, addresses, and other travel information), all on a single sheet. I may have to reduce margins, but I make sure that everything fits on no more than one sheet of paper.
The security man ignored the passport and pored through the flight info on the sheet and asked, “Where’s the passenger name on the ticket?” I told him that it had the flight info, but no need to add my name to the sheet as I already knew my name.
“Sir, I can’t let you in without your name on this.”
“But I have traveled in the past without any problem.”
“Sir, we have to follow the rules.” Apparently security had been tightened.
I tried to reason with him that he needed to focus on the passport, not on some random printout that anyone can make up, but the security guard wasn’t ready to budge.
I pushed my luggage trolley away and decided to try my luck with the security guard at the next entrance, about ten feet away. The second guard was as insistent that that piece of paper have my name.
“You can go to the e-ticket printing counter and have them print your ticket,” he offered helpfully.
He pointed to a counter that had the sign at one end: “E-Ticket Printout Rs 30” (about half a US dollar).
This station had a printer and a computer managed by an employee.
“Do you have your e-ticket in your email?” he asked. “You can log in here and print your e-ticket.”
I did have my itinerary in my email but I hate using random computers, many of which have malware installed as bored employees surf for p*rn in their slack hours.
“I don’t have my ticket info in my email,” I said.
Meanwhile a Russian passenger behind me was getting impatient. It appeared his itinerary was printed in the Russian language and the airport security wasn’t trained in Russian.
“Do you have your e-ticket in your email? You can log in to your email and print your e-ticket,” the printing clerk repeated to the Russian.
“Yes, I do, but that’s exactly the same stupid information I have here in my hand,” the Russian was beginning to get annoyed.
“Look, anyone can print any itinerary with any name on a sheet of paper. They really need to focus on verifying the ID,” I said to the printing clerk.
“I know, but I can’t do anything about it. The security guards have to follow the rules.” he said.
“How about I type up the info with my name and print it?” I offered without any expectation that it would be accepted.
To my surprise he agreed to my proposal. I reached behind the counter and fired up Notepad on the computer. With my cheat-sheet next to me I typed
Passenger: Anu Garg
Flight number 918
Flight number 1123
I felt this three-line long “e-ticket” wasn’t going to cut it with the security guards back at various doors. It had to have a whole page’s worth of jargon. I brought up an airline website on the computer and copied and pasted random information from their web page on my “e-ticket” on Notepad, filling the page.
“How does it look?” I asked the printing clerk.
“Very good.”
I hit the print button, the printing clerk fed a single sheet of paper to the printer, and out came my shiny new “e-ticket” complete with “Untitled” at the top and “Page 1” at the bottom as Notepad is wont to do. I paid the printing clerk Rs 30 and he made an entry in his logbook.
As I got up to leave the printing counter the Russian passenger’s downcast face came into my frame. I figured a little public service might be in order. Besides, it never hurt to foster international relations between a former superpower and what’s touted to be the next superpower.
“What’s your name?” I asked the Russian. He handed his itinerary to me. As it turned out, his name and airline name were in English even though the rest of the paper was in Russian. I replaced my name with his and my flight info with his in Notepad. Anatoly’s “e-ticket” was ready.
Hit the print button again. The printing clerk fed a single sheet of paper into the printer and out came the ticket to Moscow.
“Thirty rupees, sir,” the printing clerk asked Anatoly.
Anatoly fished his pocket but his net haul was only two coins worth Rs 10 and 5 each.
“That’s all I have,” he shrugged his shoulders.
I knew the economy is down, but didn’t know things were quite so bad in Russia.
I reached into my pocket to pay the balance of Russian debt, but then pulled my hand out on second thoughts. I was beginning to get perverse pleasure in these Kafkaesque rules of Indian bureaucracy. I really wanted to see how this situation would unfold if left to its own devices. Perhaps the ever-helpful printing clerk would just let it go. What’s a single sheet of paper worth, after all?
“I have to account for every single sheet of paper they give me,” he said as he showed me his print log that had the following columns:
Serial number, Date, Time, Passenger name, Amount received.
The printing clerk had a big heart and a sharp mind though. He thought for a few moments and then asked “Have you saved the ticket on the disk?”
I had. (First rule of working with computers: Save early and often.)
“We can print his e-ticket on the back of this sheet,” the printing clerk said as he removed some random memo from one of the files on the desk.
“And I can print the next passenger’s e-ticket on the back of the earlier sheet.”
I opened Anatoly’s e-ticket in Notepad, printed it on the back of the memo, and sent him on his way.
I have saved the printout of my “e-ticket” as a souvenir of this trip. The back of the sheet has a stamped seal, a signature, and a hastily scribbled number: 18561. When the printing clerk said that every single sheet of paper was accounted for, he wasn’t bluffing.
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Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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