TRAVEL TALK: Keep those passports close by
As Bud and I were just beginning out trip to Burma – in fact, before we were even out of the USA – we witnessed a passport “incident” that reminded us (yet again) of the three most important rules about your passport. Rule number one: don’t lose it. Rule number two: don’t lose it. Rule number three: don’t lose it. And I’m not trying to be funny!
What happened? As our plane to Rome was on the tarmac headed for takeoff, a passenger seated directly behind us alerted the flight attendant that he couldn’t find his passport. He’d shown it right at the gate before stepping onto the jetway and into the plane, but it was gone. Disappeared altogether.
The problem: The flight attendant, an experienced veteran, smiled with weary sympathy and said, “Sir, just look in all your pockets and carry-on. It’s probably there.” She said this happens every once in a while, and usually the passenger just misplaces it. A few minutes of searching turned up nothing, though. The flight attendant conferred with the captain, who actually halted the plane on the taxi-way while the gate crew searched the gate area, the jetway and even the ground below the jetway. Nothing. The plane stayed put on the tarmac while the flight attendant asked the passenger to decide: go back to the gate and get off the plane, or continue on to Rome with the understanding that if he couldn’t find the passport, he would have to turn right around and fly home. She was trying to nudge him toward getting off – as it turns out, the airlines get fined if they transport passengers without proper documentation. Hence all the double- and triple-checking before international flights.
Mystery solved: The poor fellow was really upset and some other passengers began to listen in. The flight attendant then raised her voice and told everyone in our small section of the cabin that a passport was missing . . . a blue U.S. passport. Almost immediately, a passenger a few rows back said, “Well, I saw a tall woman with curly hair stoop to pick up a passport off the jetway floor. Maybe she thought it was hers and it wasn’t?” The flight attendant got on the PA system, explained the problem and asked the passenger to identify herself . . . which the woman immediately did, turning over the missing passport. The fellow was over-the-moon relieved, the plane revved up for take-off and all was well. Except the woman who picked up the passport was from a country with maroon passports. Clearly it wasn’t hers, and she made no attempt to turn it over until she realized she was seen. What was going on? The flight attendant said, “Well, we can’t prove anything and the passport has been returned to the owner, but . . . there is a huge black market in Europe and all over the world for passports, especially U.S. passports.”
Lessons learned: Our cabin was all abuzz with advice. Bud and I said we travel with several extra color copies of the photo and number pages of our passports – all laminated and packed in separate areas of our luggage. One woman said she took photos of the relevant pages and carries them on her tablet and her cellphone, a great idea we implemented right away on our new iPad. The flight attendant said establishing a routine is really important – always, always, always keep your passports in the same place – a pocket, a folder or specific section of your carry-on. And always check for it as you move through your itinerary. If the fellow hadn’t checked for his passport as we readying for takeoff, the story could have a very different ending. Bud and I go even a step further and have divided responsibilities. He always carries the passports – always. That way, we’re not wondering if the other one of us has them. When we get to a hotel, they go right into our room safe as soon as we get them back from the receptionist at check-in – a requirement in most foreign countries. And of course, before we leave for a trip abroad, we print out the embassy addresses and phone numbers – just in case something goes wrong.
(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)