Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Time I Lost my Passport

There I was, in the middle of the Copenhagen international terminal, people from countless countries rushing about me and I couldn't find it. I checked, rechecked and triple checked my pockets; it was gone, I'd lost my passport.

Not having yours with you can stop your travel plans cold and it is one of the scariest experiences, short of the possibility of physical violence, that I’ve come across as a traveler. I recently traveled to Norway and on my return home I faced this travel nightmare head on.

After getting to the airport, which required a brisk walk with all my luggage and a 45 minute bus ride, I was greeted with sad news. Since I was switching airlines in Copenhagen I would not be able to get all of my boarding passes or check my bags clear through to my destination before I left Norway. This is always a pain since there is another line to stand in to get things sorted. Loyal readers will remember how much I enjoy lines from Queue Madness. When extra lines are combined with the sometimes tight connections in international travel the situation can go downhill fast.

I asked the counter agent in Norway if there was anything to be done about it but I conceded this point quickly as it was clear that I was on my own with this matter. After making it through security I found some food and made my way to the gate. At this point I think a little context might be helpful. I had just spent four days in Norway and I hadn’t slept well due to the sun never setting at the time of year I was there. Details about this can be found in my previous entry 24 Hours of Sunlight. Needless to say, I was not running at full mental capacity on this trip home.

Waiting for my flight to board I took out my passport and inspected my visa stamps as I often do while traveling. I had 18 more spots to fill before I needed to get additional pages added. I stopped momentarily at my favorite stamp, it’s from Germany when I took a train across the Swiss boarder, it has a little picture of a train on it. Coincidentally I got lost on that train trip but that’s a story for another day. I thought of all of the places that I’ll visit in order to fill my passport and then I put it back into my shirt pocket along with a copy of my itinerary and my boarding pass.

Over the course of my flight to Copenhagen the combination of sleep deprivation, a warm environment and the gentle humming of the engines quickly put me to sleep. I awoke suddenly when we landed and didn’t quite know what was going on, I figured it out quickly though. I stood up, grabbed my laptop from overhead and then bent over to retrieve my backpack from under the seat in front of me. I heard a small thud and noticed that my itinerary had fallen out of my pocket so I picked that up. I didn’t however notice that the thud was made by my passport which just so happened to be the same color as the carpet on the plane.

I departed and took a bus from the plane to the airport terminal, I was completely unaware of the gravity of what had just taken place.

I made my way to the service counter to pick up my remaining boarding passes and to try to make sure that my bags met me at home. I grabbed a number from the automated kiosk and waited my turn. It was a lot like being at the DMV, everyone stands around and hopes that they get called up by someone in a good mood. Being the good queue participant that I am I prepared for my turn I went to pull out my itinerary and my passport. Feeling where my passport should have been I was surprised not to find it. I thought that I could have used another pocket for some unknown reason so I checked. Front pants pockets…nope. Back pants pockets…no dice. Coat pockets…outlook not so good. Coat pockets again (I keep a lot of stuff in those pockets, it's easy to lose something)…still not there. My backpack and my laptop case…most certainly not. OK, now what?

Where was it? I didn’t know. I remembered having it out at the airport prior to departure but I couldn’t remember putting it away; this was bad. I ran through the events that had recently occurred and the incident on the plane popped to mind. I wasn’t sure, maybe 60% sure about what had happened, but that was all I had at the moment so it was enough to act on. What next? If I went to the gate they could surely help me. I got a third of the way there when I realized that my plane wasn’t at the gate on account of being bussed to the gate.

I froze in place, what was I going to do? I just stood there, dumbfounded by my own stupidity. This is the moment where panic could have got me but I closed my eyes and thought on it for a second. The people at the gate are usually busy with too many customers and the plane wasn’t there anyway, I figured that the customer service desk was my best bet so I headed back to where I first discovered my situation.

Calmly I grabbed another number from the automated kiosk and waited my turn. I was greeted by what turned out to be a customer service manager from SAS airlines named Hans. I slowly and clearly explained that I was pretty sure I dropped my passport on the plane. He gave me the look that I give people when they’ve done something that they shouldn’t have done and then he proceeded to help me. He was a wizard on the phone and made several phone calls that ended with Hans cursing something, complaining that it was the busiest time of the day. He made a few more phone calls and told me to come back in 15 minutes.

My action for the time being was over, all that was left for me to do was wait, this is always maddening. I tried to remain as calm as possible as the minutes slowly ticked by. I noticed a sleek stainless steel coffee vending machine and I was saddened that I didn't have any local money. I wrote a few notes in my travel journal about my situation but I did little else. What more can someone do when the wheels are in motion?

Time moved more slowly than normal and I tried to figure out how much time I had to get my boarding passes, make my way through security and find my gate. It was going to be close.

Just before the appointed time I grabbed another number and got in the queue. Before my number was called Hans saw me and called me over. Much to my relief Hans informed me that my passport had been found on the floor of the airplane, just as I had guessed. He once again told me to take a seat and wait for someone to bring the passport. So I sat down to wait some more but this time I knew that I'd at least have my passport again even if I did end up missing my plane so I was a little more relaxed. I kept and intent eye fixed in the direction of the last gate I went though and I waited as patiently as you can in these kinds of situations.

Sure enough I saw someone coming up the hallway holding my passport. It was given to Hans and I made my way up to the desk once again. Hans took a look at me and at the picture in my passport and with a smile he handed it over. It was such a relief to have my passport back once again.

I got my boarding passes, got through security and made my flight without troubles. All through my trip home I constantly checked to make sure that my passport was secure- in the front pocket of my jeans.

Have you ever lost your passport? Please comment if you have.

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  1. Hi, Graham.

    You had me on the edge of my seat with this one (though I already knew that you made it home ok). You were one lucky dude.


  2. Indeed I was very lucky, if you want to call it luck that is. I was able to calmly work things out, make a plan and it happened to work out. After traveling internationally for 5 years or so I guess I just got a little sloppy but at least I'm glad I was able to deal with it.

    That's the thing with traveling. You never know what's going to happen so you need to adapt on the fly, I like that part.

  3. Graham- thanks for the great idea for another unique souvenir idea and dropping by my blog! Not only did I lose my passport but my ss card, money, credit cards, nursing license, International Drivers license, and military ID, oh and my baby's passport too!! I was in Rotterdam and had stopped for icecream then my baby cried and I was in a hurry to get him happy again. I paid the man for the ice cream grabbed my diaper bag but left my entire purse at the counter. It wasn't until 6 hours later that I realized what I had done! We went to the security station at that mall and it was all there! Thank goodness for honest people or I would have been sunk. Think of all that could happen. Why did I have all that on me? I was a new traveller at the time and thought I needed all my ID with me at all times, very silly. I know better now!

  4. So what happens if you lose your passport (for all of us who don't fly international a whole lot?) I mean can you really not get home? Would you be stuck eating nothing but reindeer and black licorice...forever?

  5. Jenny: That's the real trick isn't it. The honest answer is that I don't know. I do carry a copy of my passport ID page with me that I keep separate from my passport. I would suppose calling the local US Embassy would be the thing to do and then you'd take it from there.

    Hopefully I never have to figure this one out.