Today’s tip is inspired by a story sent in by a reader and friend—a story that doesn’t always have such a happy ending. From Laurie Armstrong G.:
“When my husband first got his passport, I told him that it was the most valuable thing he owns. My own words came back to me after I boarded a United LAX-Melbourne flight recently.
Everything started out normally. I showed my passport and boarding pass to the gate agent and walked down the jet bridge, excited to experience the new Dreamliner. When I got to my seat, my seat mate—a little old lady I’ll call ‘Shirley’—asked if I would mind changing seats with her traveling companion so they could sit together. Since both were window seats, I gathered up my stuff and moved over to where her dear old ‘Danny’ had been sitting.
A flight attendant came around with the customs cards and I decided to go ahead and fill it out to save time later. But I could not find my passport or boarding pass. I checked every part of my carry-on bags, the pockets of my jacket (my pants had no pockets), all of the compartments of my seat, even got on the floor to feel around for it. I went to Shirley and Danny’s seats and asked them to move into the aisle so I could search their areas, too. This was no small feat as Danny was not very mobile and needed a cane. Still nothing.
Soon there were about four flight attendants and one of the pilots (Mr. Beau Brant) searching for my passport and asking me questions. They made it clear, as nicely as they could, that they could not take me out of the country if I did not have my passport. The crazy thing was, I know I brought it onto the plane. I had shown it to the gate agent. It was on that plane somewhere.
The flight crew found my boarding pass in Shirley and Danny’s area. I stayed away and let them handle that situation. Still, the clock was ticking and I had no passport. Eventually, the lead flight attendant came and told me—very apologetically—that I would have to leave the plane. I was so flustered by the whole ordeal that I could think of nothing to do but gather my stuff and follow the gate agent down the ramp. The door to the plane closed behind me and the jet bridge pulled away.
My mind was a flurry of questions. Where was my passport hiding? Would the cleaning crew find it days later in some other country? How soon could I get a new passport? It was Saturday night and Monday was a holiday. Do I just go home to San Francisco? What about the whole business trip planned to Melbourne and Sydney? Could I even get a refund or credit for the missed flights?
A feeling of doom began to replace the sensation of panic. Then a voice came over the radio: “We found the passport. Bring her back.” It was a miracle! I walked down the ramp, the jet bridge stretched out and the door to the plane opened (which I’ve heard never happens; once it’s closed, it’s closed).
The other passengers in my cabin applauded as I got to my seat. The United crew all came by to say how happy they were that I was able to make the flight. I sat for about an hour in a complete state of shock. I found out later that my passport had been found in Shirley’s purse. I guess it fell when I was moving to exchange seats with Danny and she picked it up and thought it was hers. One of the crew said she was very reluctant to have her purse searched but…but there it was.
Many lessons learned that night. Most of all: You cannot be too careful with your passport. Never lose track of its whereabouts. And don’t waste a second when you realize it’s missing. Above all, I am sincerely grateful to the United crew members who were so helpful and thorough and never gave up the hunt. My passport and the entire trip would have been lost without them!”
First, I’m happy that this ended well for Laurie! Second, her lessons are worth sharing. You should of course always keep your passport close, but if you do misplace it, don’t waste any time trying to locate it. You never know what that wasted time could end up costing you. And finally, thanks to the United team for their efforts.
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