NEW DELHI - The Indian government threatened Tuesday to take action against Continental Airlines after it emerged that former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was frisked before boarding a flight to the United States.
The Indian Parliament was in an uproar, with lawmakers condemning it as an "outrageous incident."
Officials said protocol exempts VIPs from such searches.
But Kalam, who was in office from 2002 to 2007 and is well-liked for his unassuming ways and his habit of mingling with the crowd after speeches, subjected himself to the search at New Delhi's international airport without complaint, said an official who works in his office.
The incident happened in April but was reported by local television networks for the first time Tuesday. The official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said he did not know why it has become news now.
Airport security personnel and police did not search Kalam, but airline personnel stopped him just before boarding, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told Parliament.
The former president was made to remove his shoes and the contents of his pockets, and a hand-held metal detector was run over his body.
"This act of frisking the former president ... is absolutely unpardonable and beyond the scope of the laws of our country," Patel told Parliament, adding that his ministry will take the "most stringent action" allowed by law against the airline. He did not give details.
He said Continental violated a government order on protocol for dignitaries, saying airlines are given a list of VIPs who should be exempt from searches.
A spokeswoman for Continental Airlines defended the search as a "normal security procedure," according to the Press Trust of India news agency. The U.S.-based airline did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment.
"There is no special rule for VIPs and VVIPs. This is the process the airline adheres to," PTI quoted the spokeswoman, identified only as Aparna, as saying.
She told the news agency that Kalam was "very co-operative" and "happily underwent the entire process."