I’m a very frequent flier. In the course of suffering some 1.7 million miles with just one airline, I thought I had endured some fairly outrageous travel-related fiascos. But then this happened: At terminal B at Frankfurt airport on 11 January 2018, I was literally framed, arrested and, for all intents and purposes, robbed by the Frankfurt airport and German state police.
Long before this happened, Frankfurt Airport had become one of the most harrowing airports through which I regularly transited. I had already removed it from my list of viable routes to fly anywhere…even if my destination is Frankfurt. Frankfurt Airport is routinely decried as one of Europe’s worst airports. This dubious distinction is well-earned.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, here I was transiting through one of the most incommodious airports in Europe. To make matters worse, my United flight had been delayed due to one of United’s quotidian maintenance problems and I had missed my connection to New Delhi, India. I had been re-booked but needed to quickly traverse the long distances of this execrable airport. I rushed to reach the security line and found that it was oddly empty. For a moment, I felt relieved that I may get to my re-booked flight on time.
My carry-on suitcase had already made its way onto the conveyor belt and into the x-ray machine as I was still disrobing and taking out my electronics. I proceeded through the millimeter wave scanner machine and then, for apparently good measure, had my breasts patted down officially but a security agent. I saw that my carry-on had been pulled aside.
An officious woman with the professional pleasantries of a grave digger said in a threatening tone and wavering English “I must check your bag for explosives.” (Her English of course is much better than my non-existent German!) Given the quantity of flying I do, I have had those random checks in the past. They are no big deal and they rarely take more than a minute or two: after all I have no explosives and have not been anywhere near explosives.
But, with a furrowed brow, the Frau began conversing in German with her colleagues. They squinted at the Magic Screen and conferred. She came over and announced with scowl that the “police will be called as my bag tested positive.” Several minutes passed and still no police. The Frankfurt Airport is festooned with police. Where were they when they were actually needed? You would think if this was in a fact a significant crisis with a potential terrorist with explosives in her bag in terror-stricken Germany, the police may have come a bit more alacrity. As time ticked by, I became worried that I would miss yet another flight. I expressed my concern about missing my flight and she growled “This is not my problem.” So, I asked another security agent to call the police again. I also politely inquired about the process for resolving such matters. She simply repeated the phrase: “police will come.”
As an observation about Frankfurt Airport’s resoundingly loathed “customer service” process, it would not have truly pained this uniformed harridan to explain what happens in these circumstances. The vast majority of customers torturing themselves by flying through this wretched airport whose bag tested positive likely felt the same anxiety and concern as I did and likely had no actual explosives either. (Frankfurt Airport routinely is ranked among Europe’s worst airport in part due to curmudgeonly employees like this woman and her associates in other billets at the FrankFart Hellport.)
When the police officers finally arrived with a leisurely saunter, they could not find the problem customer. So, I enthusiastically waved them over hoping that they will resolve this obvious case of a “false positive.” I asked the officer what the process is for resolving this, but he ignored me gruffly and contemptuously.
In fact, the nameless officer told me to shut up and stop being uncooperative. This was of course uncalled for. Neither the officer nor the woman who tested my bag were pleasant or even helpful. I asked basic questions about process and was treated as if I were being uncooperative. In fact, I was quite worried that maybe my bag had come into contact with ambient explosives from a somewhat recent trip to Afghanistan back in October and I asked if this were possible and, if so, what I should do if this is the case. (This does happen, by the way. Many of my friends in the military have told me this once I posted this harrowing episode on Facebook and Twitter.) I apologized again for not speaking German and tried again to restate my question about process: what was going to happen, and over what time frame? Would I be allowed to fly? Should I contact the conference organizers in Delhi about a delay? Alas, they treated my pleasant and concerned queries as if I were questioning their very authority.
Without explaining a thing, they began taking all items out of my suitcase in front of all customers. Again, had they any actual fear about explosives, would they wish to do this in the full visibility of a public which may be panicked or even injured by an exploding carry-on? For a variety of reasons, I would have preferred that this happen in private. (I was thinking to myself: thanks Dog I left my humongous vibrator at home.) I packed the rattiest undergarments as this was to be their final voyage. Then came the tampons and maxi pads. (I’m going through menopause and my periods are irregular and, when they come at arbitrary times, they are crazy deluges. So I always come prepared for one of those unpredictable Biblical floods that remind me of my diminished fertility.)
Then came the drama over “liquids.” The woman explained that I was in this situation because I committed the crime of not removing my liquids. I politely explained to her that this was not intentional that my bag was already on the conveyor belt while I was removing my jacket and my electronics. Also, I am not sure how my liquids in any way pertain to a positive explosive test and the general unpleasant demeanor of all persons involved.
They had nothing on me. There were no explosives. Failing to remove liquids from your bag is not a crime…only an inconvenience for everyone involved. Then they seized upon my deodorant. They told me that I had “too many liquids.” This was untrue. I had the lawful amount in a plastic bag and each item was the lawful size. (I should note that I observed an incredibly inconsistent policing of the Liquid Regime at that airport. Some people had over-sized liquids in regular grocery-store plastic bags, which were visible to all as they removed them from their bags.)
The police officers and baggage security personnel were going to make that deodorant their stand. They said I could not take my deodorant because, they repeated insolently, it was a liquid and I had too many liquids. I explained it is most certainly not a liquid. It is a solid. In fact, the deodorant said very clearly on the container “dry,” which is typically an antonym of wet, which is a characteristic of most liquids. (The product description also describes it as a solid. The below photo depicts my deodorant.)
Now this just seemed petty and trifling. And for the first time, I went from being worried and concerned to being really irked at just how terribly ill-behaved these people were.
As some point the woman left and a slight fellow with a tightly groomed beard arrived on the scene. I explained to the newcomer that the item in question is my deodorant: that it is a solid not a liquid. I also explained that this has not been a very professional experience and asked to see a manager and I wanted to know how I can file a customer service complaint about this un-necessarily unpleasant experience and, of course, the preposterous declaration that an obvious solid was a liquid. I also asked for the names of the individuals involved because none of the persons had name tags, as is customary in many democratic countries.
The police officer explained, with all of the bluster with which Donald Trump declared himself to be a “stable genius,” that the solid mixes with the body and becomes a liquid and thus it is a liquid after arguing that the container has fluid in it. (I resolved that canard by opening the deodorant.) His English is obviously better than my German: but my chemistry is much better than his. This was just preposterous. His language, his body posture, his demeanor was thuggish, discourteous, demeaning and noxious. He was going to seize my deodorant come hell or high water. I asked the gentleman who had replaced the older woman if I could speak to a manager about the deodorant and the entire encounter more generally. Was this petty? Sure. Would I have been better to let the thugs have their way? No doubt about it. But the capricious and arbitrariness of the entire proceeding really pissed me off. Making my flight had become tenuous and I no longer cared. I asked once again to speak with a manager. I also kept thinking, if these rubes behave this way with me how would they behave with a more vulnerable passenger?
The police officer bellowed “I am the manager and that is a liquid.” I said politely. No. It is clearly not a liquid and you are not the manager. You are a police officer. And you are a rude police officer.
In the meantime, three American men were behind me. I had watched them come through the same security checkpoint as I did. One of the three seemed younger than the other two. He was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal his tattoos. He was actually sporting a Hitler’s youth haircut. He had no hair on either side of his head and he had a very exuberantly characteristic flop that combed over towards the left. It was surprisingly glistening with hair product and showed no sign of dishevelment despite his journey. I looked like a banshee in contrast. If this guy had asked for that haircut unknowingly, my heart goes out to him. However, that do, in my view, was deliberately distinct from the hideous Hipster hairdo that Millennial metro-sexual males have regrettably popularized or the military’s high and tight cut, both of which are sometimes mistaken for the coiffure of American white supremacists. It is illegal in Germany to be a Nazi or act like a Nazi. But Inspector Clouseau and his daft sidekick was too busy impounding my solid deodorant and offering various preposterous explanations for why it was a liquid when it was clearly a god-damned solid to notice the fellow conspicuously sporting the preferred coiffure of the Hitler’s Youth.
Annoyed with this set of procedures and general surliness of all persons involved, I again courteously explained to the officer that I would like to know his name and I want to register my displeasure with this set of interactions. At this point, the officer threatened me with arrest!
I wish were exaggerating. I wish I was engaging in hyperbole for humorous effect. Alas, this ill-tempered boor was furious that I was insisting upon complaining about his uncivil behavior and had become even more intemperate. I explained that, in my country, our law enforcement personnel wear name tags and that citizens have a right to register complaints when they believe they have been maltreated. (PS: I am totally aware that this is a privilege generally reserved for white people. This is truly a white privilege.) But, I continued politely but firmly, he had no name tag. He bellowed that he would arrest me if I insisted upon filing complaint.
Let that marinate. This cop actually threatened me with arrest if I wanted to complain about his indecorous behavior. At this point I was pretty clear that I was going to complain about him, drawing particular attention to his threat of arrest if I complained about him. He actually said “If you complain, you will have a German criminal record.” This was becoming a farce. It occurred to me that if he does this to an American white woman who teaches at a prestigious American university and who is a national security professional, how would he treat a Muslim woman in a hejab or a Muslim man with a beard. I concluded that I am going to file a complaint against this man for his crude abuse of power. He knew he was wrong and was willing to do anything to avoid a customer service complaint: including arresting the complainant.
He was as adamant as was I: He explained that if I am going to complain about him, he was going to arrest me. He asserted that I was being a belligerent and rude passenger. Now anyone who knows me knows that I can indeed by very “rude,” which is the adjective that men use for women who are assertive. I countered that the cameras will not align with their story. They dismissed the cameras as evidence of my decorous behavior noting that they do not record sounds. However the camera would record my mouth moving and the mouth movements would confirm my version, not their defamatory version.
And as these ruffians became more thuggish, I became more resolved. I wanted their names. I was filing a complaint and I don’t care if I miss my damned flight as it was increasingly unlikely I would catch that flight anyway.
As I insisted that I would complain, so did he that he would file a criminal charge. He said “Now you will have a German police report.” Clearly this was intended to intimidate me. Since I lack any flight instinct, I said do it. I am complaining about your abuse of power and I am specifically dilating upon your threat to arrest me should I persist in complaining about you.
He removed from his pocket a small notebook. He took my passport and boarding pass and wrote down my details. He then illegibly scribbled his name on a piece of paper. He only wrote what appeared to be “Austav.”
After they had satisfied themselves that I had no explosives, the abrasive, contempt-dripping Austav left having pronounced “I am the manager” in response to my queries to speak to a manager. He also felt the need to belittle his uniformed colleague (who was apparently confused about the deodorant nonsense) by citing his lower rank. (N.B.: Anyone who needs to literally pull rank when a subordinate knows how a solid differs from a liquid Is clearly a rank rube.)
As I put my tampons, cruddy travel panties and long-worn travel bras back into my suitcase, without the deodorant, I muttered to myself while shaking my head “The crack German police have seized my deodorant…but they don’t seem to care about that Nazi-looking dude over there!” And, as I was still shaking my head in disbelief, I was actually arrested.
The chap with the closely hewn beard whose job it was to watch x-ray images of baggage called the police back and told them that I had called the officer a “Nazi.” At first I assumed that the this was a linguistic misunderstanding. At this point, the three fellows including the Hitler Youth haircut enthusiast had left. I gave the baggage screener the benefit of the doubt and explained “I think you misunderstood me. I referred to the gentlemen behind me, who is an AMERICAN, not your police officer.” I told him to replay any of the security footage. He and officer Austav refused again noting that their surveillance tools do not record sound. I countered that the footage would show the three men behind me, my repeated astonished glances at the fellow, and the chap with the hairdo that was strikingly redolent of the Hitler’s Youth well-groomed pompadour.
This actually happened—not in Kabul, Lahore or Chicago—but at the airport in Frankfurt, a major city in one of Europe’s most important democracies known for its fastidious adherence to the rule of law.
Once in the small police station, the state police arrived. This fellow had a name tag: Mehrinj. I was relieved. He seemed polite and more professional than that swaggering goon who could not distinguish a solid from a liquid. I had expected this ostensible professional to resolve the matter allowing me to rebook yet another flight. It was not to be.
The short fellow who accused me of calling Austav a Nazi was now repeating his account to Mehrinj. As Mehrinj took his credential, I saw his name: S. Kapoor. Kapoor went ballistic that I knew his name. What kind of democracy is Germany where an individual has a right to perjure himself about a person but the victim of this perjury doesn’t have a right to know the name of her slanderer?
As I stood there, Mr. Kapoor adumbrated his accusation. I don’t know German but I did hear this: “Fucking Nazi German police.” It was pretty clear where this was going. Mehrinj explained that, according to Mr. Kapoor, I had called Mr. Austav a “Fucking Nazi German police,” which is a crime in Germany. I may note that this is not even standard American vernacular English, which is a fairly important point since Kapoor was adamant that this was a direct quote.
Amongst themselves, Kapoor and Austav described me as a “hippy.” This is a peculiar appellation for me and I can only attribute their deployment of it to the fact that I was wearing an Indian kurta and coat and sandals because, after all, I was going to India. I explained that in fact I am a professor and I am not a hippy, whatever they meant by that.
I don’t know if Mr. Kapoor actually thought he heard this or whether he was a calumnious schlemiel who, upon making a false accusation, was not only not going to back down but would, in fact, double down.
At this point, it became very clear that Mr. Kapoor and Officer Austav were engaging in a breathtaking abuse of power. I had asked for their names and information where I could report my dissatisfaction with how I was being treated and this was their retaliation.
I was literally charged with the criminal offense of defamation because I had the audacity to request politely for the names of the noxious and impolite officials as well as information about where I can file a report or find a manager. The photo of the charge is below. You can see that I am “strongly suspected of having committed” the offense of defamation.
Mehrinj took my written statement. I was told I was to be given a copy. (I was not given a copy.) I also was adamant that I wanted to file a police report for defamation against Mr. Kapoor who mendaciously asserted that I had called Austav a Nazi but who also perjured himself in doing so. I was told that if the prosecutor wanted to charge him, s/he could. I repeated my desire to file a police report against Mr. Kapoor. These efforts were denied repeatedly.
Before being allowed to leave they requested 300 Euros. This was the final straw. I told them to throw me in jail and that I would happily go before a judge and explain the slander and the abuse of power to which I was subjected because I wanted to file a customer service complaint, which is a basic consumer right in most democracies. In the end, they demanded to see the cash in my wallet. I was told to remove my cash. I had about $300 dollars. They arranged the bills by denomination and took what they wanted. They took $260 dollars and told me that they were kindly leaving me with $40. I was given a piece of paper, shown above, in which they indicated that they took this arbitrary amount of money from my wallet for “avoiding provisional arrest” and “securing the implementation of the process.” Make no mistake: this was a considerate robbery in which the perpetrators left me with a receipt.
In retrospect, what I experienced was little more than jack booted thuggery. I also suspect that this was deeply gendered. These two men were annoyed that a woman (whom they repeatedly called “Miss” despite the fact that I am a 49-year old woman) dared to seek accountability for their unprofessional behavior. I continue to wonder who else Austav has abused but whom he intimidated into silence? I fear for a racial or religious minority that would encounter him. What contempt would he show them? This man does not belong in any uniform, except perhaps the one which corrupt police officers wear in jail....were they ever to be jailed for their abuses of power.
In closing, I say this to Mr. Austav: I did not call you a Nazi. But you are an insolent bully. The only thing that differentiates you from the criminals one may encounter in the street is the weapon and badge the state has given you along with the authorization to use force in the service of the state. Make no mistake: you abused this privilege and expected to do so without accountability. To Mr. Kapoor, whether your English is not as good as you insist or whether you are guileful and unctuous toadie, I have this to say: ਉਮੀਦ ਹੈ ਕਿ ਕੋਈ ਜਾਂ ਕੋਈ, ਤੇਰੀ ਗੰਦ ਵਿਚ ਝਾੜੂ ਡਾਲਕਰ, ਮੋਰ ਬਣਾ ਦੇਵੇਗਾ. (If you can’t read Gurmukhi: umid hai kh koi ja koi tere gand vich jaru dalke mor bana denge.) And finally to Frankfurt airport, Gute Riddance.
Post Post Script: On January 17, 2017, I received this email from email@example.com. Perhaps coincidentally someone in Germany complained about my post to German Twitter, which of course found nothing wrong with my post.
Bundespolizeidirektion Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Sachbereich 14 - Beschwerdestelle Dear Mrs. Fair, thank you for your complaint. Please note that your complaint procedure will be suspended until a decision concerning the criminal proceedings has been reached by the public prosecutor. Therefore, I would like to ask you to direct all requests concerning the criminal proceedings to the responsible public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt am Main, quoting the reference. Once the decision by the public prosecutor has been made, I will reply to your complaint regarding the procedure at the security screening checkpoint.
Best regards In order Armin Thiel Sachbearbeiter Beschwerdemanagement _______________________________________ Sachbereich 14 - Beschwerdestelle Bundespolizeidirektion Flughafen Frankfurt am Main
Postfach 75 02 64 | 60532 Frankfurt am Main Telefon: 069 3400-4194 | Fax: 069 3400-4109 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Internet: http://www.bundespolizei.de
-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht----- Von: Christine Fair [mailto: Gesendet: Freitag, 12. Januar 2018 19:54 An: D FRA Post (Eingang); Christine Fair Betreff: I was abused by your police in Frankfurt, framed and basically robbed
I have written this account of what happened to me at Frankfurt Airport yesterday on January 11, 2018. When I return to DC from Delhi, I will be making an appointment with the ambassador. To be subjected to this thuggery by a police service in Europe's vanguard of democracy is beyond belief. This is what I expect in my own country: not in Germany. I would like the money that was taken from to be returned and I want an apology. I have also reached out to German and American media about this event through my social media following. Framed, Arrested and Robbed by the Police in Frankfurt: A Not-So Funny Thing Happened on my Way to the Forum in Delhi https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/framed-arrested-and-robbed-by-the-police-in-frankfurt_us_5a58f270e4b01ccdd48b5bbf?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004
C. Christine Fair, PhD Provost's Distinguished Associate Professor Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service www.christinefair.net SSRN Working Papers: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=350967 Skype: c..christine.fair Mobile 202-460-9295 Office: 202-687-7898 Fax: 703-542-3238
Post Script: On January 13 2018, the Frankfurt Airport Police, via a tweet, attempted to silence me asking that I observe their version of “netiquette” and “avoid using this channel to make public allegations.” To them I say, I will not shut up until my money is returned and justice is served. While you want me to observe “netiquette,” your thugs in uniform were not advised to respect my civil liberties.