For the past week I have been in Thailand. (LHR-FRA-SIN-BKK -- I flew with LH with miles going into UA Mileage Plus*)
I have always thought myself amongst the more experienced of travelers. I have done more than 200k miles so far this year. Well, you know what they say about pride coming before a fall.
It was Friday night and I was on the internal flight from BKK to HKT (Phuket) with Air-Asia. The flight was about three hours delayed so I didn't get to my hotel until well gone 2 a.m. Then I realized it. I had lost my passport. The last time I saw it was when I boarded the domestic flight and I had no recollection of seeing it since. Was it stolen? Had I been pick pocketed or had I simply been careless and lost it?
I was flying back to London on Sunday (in fact this blog is being written from the very comfortable SQ Krisworld lounge in SIN) and knew there was no hope of me getting replacement passport documents before my international flights. I had nothing to look forward to other than sitting in a waiting room in the British Embassy on Monday trying to get some sort of travel document.
I am not sure what I was more upset about: the rigmarole of sorting out the mess or my wounded ego that I had done the unthinkable. I had been careless with my most important possession which was now going to screw me up for days.
Sorting out a new passport especially at the weekend is a nightmare. The British Embassy duty office in Bangkok didn't answer its phone (what is a duty office for, if not to have someone on duty?) I couldn't get through to the airline, I couldn't do anything except sit and ponder, 'How could I have been so stupid?'
Then, Miracles of Miracles. The duty manager of the hotel in Phuket took it upon himself to get hold of the airline. And Yup, I had left my passport on the plane. Or at least I hadn't noticed when it fell between the seats. It was found when the plane returned to BKK for cleaning.
A few calls later and the passport would be back in my possession and my travel plans were safe!
This has been a telling experience. Those of us who do travel a lot often look arrogantly at lesser-travelers as we swan through airports, knowing where the best seats are, or the quiet corners. We navigate car rentals with a superior air. We check into hotels at the "gold desks," by-passing the mere tourists.
The way I behaved with my passport showed me to be amongst the rankest amateurs in the business. I forgot the first rule of travel. If something can screw up complicated plans, it eventually will. It is a lesson well-learned.
So if you see me in an airport in the coming weeks, I hope I appear more humble, a bit more cautious and certainly a lot more aware that the world's airports are not my God-given home. They are dangerous places full of pitfalls, waiting to trap the experienced and novice alike. I think I have learned that lesson -- until the next time.
Please drop me a note, if you have had a similar travel experience, I'd like to know how you dealt with it: firstname.lastname@example.org
* A quick postscript. Some of you may have noticed my circuitous routing via FRA and SIN to get to BKK. Why did I inflict this on myself ? Simple; it was cheaper. The non-stops from LHR-BKK were all over £3,000 ($5,578) in J class, but going via LH's FRA hub brought the cost down to a more reasonable £1,700 ($3,161).
From:April Lopez Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: Great story on humility.Enjoyed your passport article very much, and I know it will help keep me in check with not just my passport, but to pay attention to the little routine basics that we easily take for granted sometimes. I will be sharing this article with my family. Thank you.
From: Anthony Biddulph Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: I would have thought a chap of your caliber would have a couple of aces up his sleeve for the "lost passport" eventuality! 1) Get a second British passport (allowable if you potentially travel to "conflicting countries," which you clearly do. Leave it somewhere where someone you trust can access it and UPS it to you in an emergency, or 2) Call the immigration service in the UK on their 24-hour number. They will agree to allow you to land in the UK and give you a case number to quote when you approach the officer with trepidation. (This even worked for a Danish colleague of mine who lost his passport in Oslo the other day, but was allowed to return to the UK) 3) I guess you have done "iris?" If you can get yourself on to the plane in Timbuktu ,or wherever, you will be guaranteed to get through immigration, sans passport --assuming the machines are not down as is sometimes the case. Keep blogging -- good reading for those of us who share your need to travel frequently!
From: Stephen Verry Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: I know full well the sinking feeling you mention of losing a passport. While in Singapore Airport on a flight out of Australia, I left my passport by a pay phone! When I realized my loss, panic set in. I would miss my connection and end up mired there for who knows how long. Imagine my relief when I hear a voice on the PA system asking me to go to information. An honest, kindly soul had found my passport and turned it in. Some experience.
From: Sonia Beracha, Venezuela Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: Even though I have not had the same experience you had (thank God), you are right, these things can happen to the most experienced travelers as well as the more novice. You cannot take for granted that even if you are a very experienced traveler, this cannot happen to you. For me my passport is the most precious jewel when I travel, as the process of obtaining a passport here in Venezuela is a very painstaking one nowadays. I travel a lot myself, maybe not like you and I agree with you that airports are: "They are dangerous places full of pitfalls, waiting to trap the experienced and novice alike."
From: Bridget Downey Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: My husband and I both travel a great deal. And we have both lost our passports, and were as humiliated as you seem to have been. Mine fell out of my handbag on to the dark blue carpet behind the front seat of a rental car. Being a U.S. passport it was also dark blue, face down, evidently, and missed by me and the check-in clerk at the car rental. The next people to rent the car contacted Enterprise six hours later. Enterprise called me immediately, and promised to overnight it to me the following day, after they retrieved it from the current travelers. And, they did. GREAT customer service. My husband lost his, as you did, between seats on a plane. It was found immediately, he was paged to go to a transit desk -- but not told which desk (not such great customer service.) While he and the gate clerk for his next flight called and called, requesting the page to be repeated his next flight left. His passport was returned to him about an hour later. He lost almost 24 hours.
From: Alain Meunier, Montreal, QC, Canada Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: All I can say is: consider yourself incredibly lucky. Having worked for Air Canada in the baggage area for 29 years, I can tell you that if that had occurred in Canada or in an Air Canada aircraft, you would not have retrieved your passport. Not because the staff or passengers are thieves but because it is forbidden for the airline to keep any piece of documentation that is government issued, for security reasons. Passports, citizen cards, drivers licenses, Medicare cards and such are immediately forwarded to the embassy/consulate of the issuing government, (in the case of Canadian Federal and U.S. documents, they are handed to customs/immigrations officials at the airport where found, and then send it by internal mail to their appropriate departments; Canadian provincial documents are mailed to a general receiving address for each province) where they are recorded as found, and then are destroyed. The unlucky traveler must then go through the process of getting a new one reissued. So, in your case, you would have gotten a confirmation of it being found and sent on, but definitely never have retrieved it. It would have been helpful for you to add in your article that the loss of a passport should have been immediately reported to your embassy/consulate, as it can have serious security consequences (something a reporter have known, but which you failed to do). You demonstrated a rather cavalier approach to this situation, like it was a trivial item of no consequence, that does not reflect the world we now live in and poorly represents your chosen profession (being such a world traveler). Please try to deal with your future subjects with a little more seriousness (try to see the big picture). Richard Quest replies: Sorry, I didn't make it clear. I Was actually on my way to the police station in Phuket to report the lost passport when I was told it had been retrieved.
From: Nancy Elizabeth Shaw, Boston, Massachusetts Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: Richard, I have been reading your column and really love the way you handle material. Your latest on the passport fiasco was reminiscent of one where my colleague and I were in the Hong Kong airport and she set it down in a bookstore -- we were on our way to the gate and we were holding our passports in our hands with our tickets. She got to the gate, no passport. She had been in six stores along the way -- you know how Hong Kong is -- and she had no idea where she had left it. We were 40 gates down. They were closing the flight. They ALMOST made her stay behind but she asked them to call regarding the passport because she suspected it was the bookstore. They did, it was there, they rushed it down in a cart. Day saved but only because someone decided to be nice and bend the rules just a bit.
From: Wolfgang Schulz, Vienna, Austria Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: Many years back my entire briefcase was stolen on checking in at a hotel in Penang, Malaysia. Gone was the passport, all the cash, all credit cards, airline and hotel status cards, the airline tickets (for domestic and also the intercontinental flights), the driver's licence, business cards, and, worse of all: my phone registry! Indeed, nothing could be more humbling than to discover that one is a NOBODY in this world, no name, no cash, no place to go to, and no food and drink! So, much as you did at this instance at Bangkok, we learn the hard way, and next time shall "be smarter" or, in the least: "be better prepared!"
From: Stephen Hunt, Alberta, Canada Posted: 24 July, 2006 Comment: You made me flash back to my trip to Paris, in April, 2005. I was at a friend's wedding. I'm Canadian but was living in Los Angeles at the time. Six days into a 10 day trip, I realize I forgot my green card in LA. Not only that, but no one has the key to our apartment, so it takes a day to straighten that out, by which time it's too late to Fed Ex the green card to me -- A call to U.S. Customs at LAX is surprisingly reassuring. "As long as your green card number is stamped inside your passport (it is), we'll admit you," they say. The problem comes at De Gaulle Airport, where Air France refuses to board me on to the flight. When I tell them about my conversation with U.S. Customs, they say, "Maybe you have enough ID to get into the U.S., but you don't have enough to be admitted onto the flight. If we let you on, the U.S. could fine us" After a verbal tongue lashing from my wife, an Air France rep offers the following solution: go to the U.S. Embassy, get a letter of transit, come back later that day and board the 7 p.m. flight home. He will personally authorize the change at no charge to me. So I zoom to the U.S. Embassy, spend five hours in a state of panic and boredom, I receive a Letter of Transit stating that I'm legit. Back on to the commuter train I go, out to De Gaulle, off to the check in desk, only to discover... There are no flights to LA that night. Anyway, long story short: I came back the following morning, they found my lost reservation, put me on a flight to LA, and home I flew. Got to Customs, where they opened the Letter of Transit. It stated that "Stephen Hunt, born in Brighton, England, is a legal holder of a green card and ought to be admitted without hesitation to the U.S." Which was great. Even if I am Stephen Hunt, born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. So much for the relentless scrutiny of Homeland Security! Next time I fly Air France, I'm just going in with my arms up, chanting 'I surrender!' I figure they'll understand that.
From: Rohit Aggarwal Posted: 25 July, 2006 Comment: It's a big issue if you lose your travel docs while traveling. I live in the U.S. and once I found someone's driver's license at an airport. I gave it to a ticket attendant who announced the name and luckily the person was nearby. I travel a lot and I always worry about how I would travel if I lost my license, since it's the I. D. I use to travel on domestic flights or -- even worse -- my passport while traveling abroad. I've even thought of getting a duplicate license and keeping it at home.
From: Mike, London, England Posted: 25 July, 2006 Comment: Beat this. My wife is a flight attendant for a major airline and she flies twice weekly out of London to the U.S. Horror of horrors, who forgot to bring one's passport when going on vacation? Not me -- the novice -- but my loved one, the international traveler. However, the good news, we returned home to pick up said document and proceeded with our travel arrangements, just as well for the hiccup -- got an upgrade on the later flight.
From: Douglas Bond Posted: 26 July, 2006 Comment: "Dad, don't you think that you should hide the camera bag?" It was a question from one of my children as I locked up the car for the night at a friend's house near Reading in England. "Why bother? The cameras are in the house. Nothing in the bag except the passports and plane tickets." Next morning, the car window was broken and the camera bag -- and only the camera bag -- was missing! When you travel, carry your passport numbers some place separate from your passports. It makes it much easier for the consulate to trace who you are. The theft happened on Friday morning and we were flying home on Tuesday. Monday was Labor Day. Don't tell me that Labor Day in not a holiday in Britain. It is for the American Embassy. They took our applications on Friday along with the pictures and promised to try to verify our identity. First time a British citizen notarized my allegiance to the U.S. Tuesday morning, my wife and children took a taxi to Heathrow while I went the the Consulate to, hopefully, pick up the passports. No verification came in, but our drivers' licenses allowed us a one year passport to get us home. They were very nice, but I learned that passports are valuable. They should have gone in the house with us. One final note. The camera bag was recovered eight months later by the police in Southhampton. We were very relieved because it also had the film from our trip.
From: Garrett Kenny, Dublin, Ireland Posted: 27 July, 2006 Comment: Hi Richard, love your stuff. Had an experience in San Francisco last week when all my luggage, laptop, passport, driving license was stolen from the trunk of the rental car. All perfectly concealed, but stolen nonetheless (Never again).The thieves can recognize rental cars from the bar code labels on the windows and have a scanner type device that enables them to unlock the central locking. They go for rental cars as there is a high chance there are high value items in the trunk. It was a Friday night and I was traveling back to Ireland on Sunday morning. I was amazed that when I rang the local Irish consulate at midnight someone answered and arranged to meet me the next day to issue me with an emergency travel doc, which they duly did after I had my birth certificate faxed to them. What a wonderful relief. Good tip learnt afterwards is to scan your passport, birth cert and driving license and e-mail it to a secure email address that you can access over the web. Speeds up the process with the consulate.
From: Geronio Ulayao, Philippines Posted: 28 July, 2006 Comment: That was a great article and indeed a humbling experience for a frequent traveler like yourself. Although I haven't experience losing travel documents, I think I understand what you went through because I have witnessed several times the desperation and helplessness of people in airports who have lost their travel documents. The cycle would be the same everywhere -- talking nicely at first, then heated argument will follow, then end up in pleading and begging. Yup, that is really quite humiliating. Since I started crossing oceans and continents, I've always kept photocopies of my passport, tickets and travel insurance both in my cabin bag and checked-in luggage. I just hope I won't be using those copies in the future to prove my identity.
From: Elizabeth Shipp, Nice, France Posted: 31 July, 2006 Comment: Of course it's important to report a lost or stolen passport to the police as soon as possible. However, that's not always as easy as it sounds! My passport disappeared within the first 24 hours of my moving to Germany, along with all my cash on hand, credit cards, etc. When I went to the police station, I made the mistake of saying, "I don't know if I lost it or if it was stolen." The upshot of that one innocent sentence was that they would not accept a police report. The consular official I dealt with the following day said I should have just told the police it had been stolen, and left it at that. Be careful what you say when.