Folks, when you’re travelling, make sure you know where your passport is at all times. Why do I say that? Because forgetting your passport at an inopportune time can lead to the biggest headache that you’ll ever face. I now know this from personal experience. Gather ’round, kids, and let me tell you the story of when I made a stupid mistake and then suffered for it for the rest of the day.
The story begins in Chicago. Yesterday. My friends and I had arrived at O’Hare airport on our way back from a social psychology convention in Austin. We had a layover in Chicago and were waiting for our second flight to the Kitchener airport. It was an evening flight, and I was looking forward to being home. The employees at the desk announced that our flight was ready to board, and I grabbed my things, ready to finally leave! And then they announced, “Because this is an international flight, please have your passport ready to show the attendant along with your boarding pass.” And that’s when my heart sank.
I looked down at what was in my hand. A book, to read on the plane. My boarding pass. And no passport. I realized that I had left it in the seat pocket of the plane from Austin. With a slight hint of panic in my voice, I told my friends, “I don’t have my passport.” They told me that no no, I must have it! Just check my pockets, it’ll be there! But no. As I checked my pockets anyway, I knew that I had left it. I remembered not picking it up with all my other things as I got off the plane. (I had been distracted by trying very hard not to forget my jacket!) And in a flash, ten thousand thoughts flew through my head: They weren’t going to let me on the plane, I was going to be stuck in this airport, I’d have to call the Canadian embassy, I’d have to live out the life of Tom Hanks in The Terminal, and I’d probably die here in the airport—maybe from eating too much McDonald’s, I don’t know. But the point is, I was in trouble.
So one of my friends went with me to the desk at the gate and I explained the situation to the attendant. He told me I couldn’t get on the plane without the passport, and then I gave him my boarding pass and he told me I had to go back to the gate where I got off. So I went there while my friends worriedly watched me leave, not knowing what to do. At this other gate, I again explained the situation, and she told me, “Oh, the plane has already left.” Cue more thoughts about Tom Hanks. She talked to a couple people to see if anyone had picked it up, but nobody had. Then she called someone. Then someone else. Then she told me, “Okay, the plane is in the hangar, so we’ll have to send someone to go out and get it. But you aren’t going to make your flight.” At this point, I was entirely at her mercy. She could have told me to dance like a monkey around the airport, and I would have. Anything to avoid a life of wandering around the airport in citizenship limbo.
I should add, at this point, that my phone had stopped working for some reason. While in the US, I had added a US call/texting plan to my phone. But that had stopped working that day, for some reason. I could get incoming calls and texts, but couldn’t make outgoing ones. So my friend called me and told me that they were going to pull my luggage if I couldn’t make the flight, and that another one of the grad students had a friend I could call for help, and so on. She later texted me saying, “Hey, call me ASAP if you found your passport, I’ll try to get the plane to wait.” I couldn’t even text her back to let her know that I wasn’t going to make it. Of course, I had also used up my complimentary free Internet, so my phone at this point was just a reminder of my increasingly desperate situation. I was stuck. And the only person who could rescue me was this nice lady at the desk who was trying to coordinate an idiot who left his passport on the plane along with trying to get another flight boarded.
Did I mention how nice this lady was? She managed to book me on another flight (free of charge), though it was an hour later, and going into Toronto instead of Kitchener. She coordinated the situation to pull my luggage off the original flight and onto this new flight. And she got someone to head over to the hangar and look for my passport. I told her my seat number on the flight so they’d know where to look. But now it was just a waiting game. After what seemed like hours (though it was likely only about 20 minutes) she told me that they had found my passport and were bringing it over. I had to go to another gate to pick it up. I thanked her profusely and headed over, managed to get my passport, and then headed over to a fourth gate to wait for my new flight.
Our original flight was scheduled to leave around 8:30, and this new flight was supposed to leave around 9:40. While waiting there at the gate, clutching my passport like a parent clutching a child who just got lost in the supermarket, they told everyone that the flight was going to be delayed because “the plane has been sent to a waiting area due to too much traffic on the tarmac”. Well that was just great. Instead of getting into Kitchener at 10:00pm, I was going to end up in Toronto at midnight. All because of a stupid mistake of forgetting my passport.
We finally boarded the plane, and then proceeded to sit there for about a half hour, with no reason being given to us. Eventually we took off, and I arrived in Toronto around 12:45am. Still gripping my passport tightly, I waited at the luggage claim, hoping that my luggage actually made it onto this new flight. After what seemed an eternity (time was moving in slow motion at this point), I saw my luggage. It was like the birth of a child coming down that conveyor belt, and I was as happy as a new parent: exhausted, adrenaline-spent, but happy. I made my way outside and got myself a taxi. At this point, I just wanted to get home.
My taxi driver was a little strange. He looked like he was agitated. He kept scratching his head and cracking his knuckles and fidgeting. But I guess at least he was awake, instead of falling asleep at the wheel. He got me to my house, and told me the cost, and I handed him my Mastercard. But then he told me, “Oh, do you have cash? The machine charges me extra for credit, so do you have cash?” I told him I didn’t, but he didn’t seem to accept that answer. Like, honestly, it’s 2:00 in the morning, can you cut me some slack and just take the extra charge? But no. So I suggested he drive me to a nearby gas station and I’d use an ATM. We tried a couple gas stations, one of which was closed and the other didn’t have an ATM, but the clerk suggested the bank nearby. So off we went to the bank, and I got out some money and took the ATM fee like a chump. He took me back to my house, and finally my ordeal was over.
Well, not quite. The icing on the cake was when I opened my luggage and saw the sheet of paper letting me know that the TSA had opened my luggage for inspection. (In case I hadn’t felt violated enough at the security checkpoint.) In the process, they had moved my belt, which had then punctured some tea I had brought back, which had then spilled little tea leaves all over my clothes, in every nook and cranny. But at 2:00 in the morning, I couldn’t be compelled to care. I got ready for bed and ended my day of misery at 2:30am.
I hope that this story can be a lesson for you all. I don’t claim that this was anything other than my own fault. It was my own failure to keep track of important possessions that led to this unfortunate chain of events. But I have written this story down, dear reader, to warn you of the dangers of forgetting one’s passport. This could all have been avoided (other than the TSA inspection—that is inevitable, of course) if I had just kept my passport on me instead of in the seat pocket in front of me. I urge you, dear reader, to learn from my mistakes and surgically attach your passport to your body so you will never, ever have to even consider the prospect of becoming Tom Hanks at the O’Hare airport. It’s not worth the headache, the flight changes, the delays, the worries, and the 2:00am taxi rides.
And that’s why…you always remember your passport.