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We fly in 22 hours. What could possibly go wrong?

We’re in America. It’s 11.30pm. We fly home tomorrow night. We’ve had a nice meal, nice wine, a couple of Coronas and a nice chat. God is in his heaven, all is right with the world, and Mrs Bigmouth turns to me and, in a husky voice, makes it very clear that I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.

The huskiness is due to an aircon-transmitted chest infection. The words are “the passports are missing.”

Backtrack. We’ve been all over Florida – Orlando, Miami, Key Largo, Key West, Naples – and somewhere in the fog of baby-related panic (“We need to check out in ten minutes! Feeds! Nappies! Baby! Let’s GO!”) Mrs Bigmouth has lost a rather nice handbag. And the night before we fly, Mrs Bigmouth realises that both her passport and baby Bigmouth’s passport were in said rather nice handbag.

With hindsight, I guess that shouting “for fuck’s sake!” and throwing luggage around the room might not have been the most reassuring way to respond. Oh well.

Cue several hours of phone calls: to the various places we stayed, to the British Consulate’s helpline, to the local police to file a lost passport report. Somewhere around 2am I’ve done as much as I can and fall into bed, before waking at 5am with a head full of “need to do this, need to do that” stuff. Because of my foul-mouthed rants the night before Baby Bigmouth has had an unsettled night and wakes every hour, ensuring Mrs Bigmouth is as sleep-deprived as I am.

Hotel business centre, internet connection, PDFs, prints, form-filling, calls to answering machines. The passports haven’t been found in any of the places we stayed (I did say they were in a rather nice handbag). Then Susan from the British Consulate calls. There’s a problem with getting emergency travel documents. The embassy isn’t open at weekends. We’ll have to arrange a few more days’ stay, travel to Miami on Monday, get new passports. Unless.

Unless BA agrees to take us without documentation.

This is no minor thing. Airlines are responsible for ensuring that the people they carry are the people they should be carrying, and there are serious fines for them if they just transport people without the relevant paperwork. To put it mildly, it’s a long shot.

Susan calls back. BA don’t start work until the afternoon, so we need to drive from one side of Florida to the other and keep our fingers crossed. We should head for the airport and hope BA can do something.

It’s a long drive, I’m so caffeinated my eyeballs are vibrating, and every time I get out of the car for a cigarette – which is approximately every three minutes – the car radios the Insect King, who sends swarms of his subjects to bite me. This helps my mood immensely.

3pm. Susan again. Mike Devver from BA Miami is okay with the idea, but he needs to get an all-clear from UK immigration. This, we’re told, is the longest of long shots. Go to the airport anyway, says Susan. Meet Mike. Hopefully he’ll be able to talk to immigration.

So we drive to Miami, with multiple near-misses on the way, and promptly get lost thanks to Miami’s policy of hiding all the road signs so nobody other than locals know where anything is. The sat-nav’s no help either, as it seems to have been programmed by the Pepsi Max advert “dudes”. “Stay on this road for 200 miles – No! TURN! TURN NOW! WOO-HOO! Near-death experiences on a five-lane highway rock, man!”

Dear Garmin, makers of the StreetPilot GPS: thank your lucky stars tourists aren’t allowed to buy guns. Love and kisses, Gary.

To cut the rest of this story short, Mike from BA sweet-talked UK Immigration and we were able to travel without two of our passports. Even the US TSA staff were nice to us, although they did shout “SUPERVISOR! SUPERVISOR!”, lock Mrs Bigmouth in The Cubicle of Shame and blast her with compressed air for a few minutes while all the other passengers watched, just for a laugh. I guess it’s a perk of the job.

So we got home, and of course BA broke our baby car seat in transit and lost one of our suitcases (now returned, albeit in a state that makes me think somebody mistook it for a trampoline). But thanks to Susan at the British Consulate and Mike at BA, we got home without having to spend a fortune or enduring a couple of very stressful days while trying to keep a five-month-old amused. I can’t thank them enough.

A few things I’ve learnt, then. Other than “don’t lose your passports, you Scots twat”:

* Unless you’re sure you’ll be able to get internet access when you’re away, get the details of the UK Consulate for your area before you travel and keep them in your luggage.

* Make sure there’s enough spending money on your credit card so you can get extra nights’ hotel accommodation and car hire if you need it.

* Share stuff between you when you pack, and if possible carry essentials in your carry-on baggage. Two of the people we travelled with had their baggage lost. One got their bags after 11 days, the other after 14.

* Keep copies of your passport information in your hand luggage. This saves a lot of time and effort.

* Travel insurance is your friend. Replacement passports are £72 each.

* Have other photo ID with you.

* Don’t lose your passports, you Scots twat.

13 replies on “We fly in 22 hours. What could possibly go wrong?”

Now I think about it, this is all unnecessary. An actual physical passport is a relic of the 20th Century, still useful in far-flung, off-Net places, but not needed in the developed world. When you apply for one, they don’t just keep a copy of your photo in a file somewhere like they used to; they scan it onto a computer. So UK Immigration ought to be able to simply call up a copy of your photo on screen and check that it looks like you. In fact, this would be more secure than the paper version that you carry around with you, because you can’t fiddle with it using glue and scissors.

So why all this “long shot” stuff? It should have been easy and routine. As ever, our Government give us the disadvantages of new technology without any of the advantages.

Thanks. It was a pain in the arse.

> So UK Immigration ought to be able to simply call up a copy of your photo on screen and check that it looks like you.

That’s how we got through US security and UK immigration on the way back.

After experiencing (and still experiencing) baby jetlag, we’re never leaving the house again.

> Surely that shouldn’t be a long shot. It should be easy and normal.

I’d imagine it’s the multiple-layers approach to security. Passport + database + biometrics on arrival = reasonable chance you’re dealing with the right person; one out of three is fakeable/corruptible/hackable.

One minor benefit of joined-up databases, btw: if you apply for a driving licence and don’t have a photocard, the DVLA can grab your pic from the identity and passport service database. So you can have the same shite pic on everything. Hurrah for tech!

Not in any way disputing anything so don’t shout at me.

But, I’ve only had my luggage lost once in over $100K miles traveled so that is so odd so I rarely plan for that beyond not being a dumbass by packing prescriptions, rare jewelry (which I have tons of naturally), glasses etc.

That said, I would add a few other precautions.. Not only carry copies of your passport (color copies), but scan them in at home and email it to a friend who is perpetually online or will be around so there’s a soft copy that can be sent to you anywhere in the world. Also, keep a hard copy of it with someone at home.

2nd photo ID is always a good idea and I scan and print my passport and drivers license on the same jpg and print-out so the DL has a bit more validity than it would on its own. I also carry a copy of my birth certificate just in case I need to spend some quality time at the embassy.

But.. I have a new thing that I discovered this past trip (did I mentioned I’ve been in the Caribbean? If I haven’t mentioned it excessively let me know). I repurposed this little plastic case that some toiletry set came in and put into it the “absolute essentials.” Which would have my passport, ear plugs, eye glasses etc. Things *I* can’t live without. If I leave with nothing else, it’s that case. And it sits on the night table and it never moves. I take things in and out of it, but it always goes back into it at the end of the day. It’s only about 4×5 in size so what is “essential” is really not hard to keep track of and you can’t make it cumbersome and easy to forget.

Travel insurance is a good idea if you have kids. It’s a dumb idea if you’re single and have some modicum of responsibility towards a few things. Put kids into the picture though and a multitude of things can go wrong so I’m all for it for families. Otherwise it’s a rip off; collecting on it is a more frustrating and asinine process than what you’ve gone through.

> I repurposed this little plastic case that some toiletry set came in and put into it the “absolute essentials.”

Yeah, that’s a good idea. I do something similar.

> collecting on it is a more frustrating and asinine process than what you’ve gone through.

I’m beginning to appreciate that.

I think you’re right about insurance being useful for families (particularly with medical cover outside Europe) and pretty pointless for individuals. That said, maybe you’ve just been lucky – and haven’t travelled via Terminal 5 yet, heh.

We had to claim on travel insurance a few years ago when we had to cancel the entire trip for medical reasons, and had absolutely no difficulty claiming whatsoever. That was First Direct’s travel insurance, if anyone’s interested.

Also learnt a fascinating thing at the time. A lot of airline tickets are non-refundable, which is fair enough. But the only part of the price that the airline can choose not to refund is the price itself — not the tax. The tax is paid to the government when and if a passenger actually flies, not if a passenger buys a ticket. So, if you buy one of those non-refundable tickets that’s £2 plus £50 in tax and then don’t use the ticket, you’re entitled to your £50 back. I can’t help but wonder whether airlines are making any money out of keeping schtum about that. And hats off to BMI, who explained it to us and sent us the money without prompting; I got the impression it was routine procedure for them.

Jo- Do you know if that tax true of US or just UK? It’s a good point I never thought of. My company can get into a lot of trouble for keeping/writing off tax collected but not paid. Though if the airline recognizes the fare as revenue/sales then I reckon they will go ahead and pay the tax.

It’s easier to collect insurance when you’ve got kids. A lot less documentation and such seems to be required to justify the cancellation of your trip.

I nearly was in Terminal 5 the weekend I went to the Caribbean instead. I was naturally very happy I chose the islands instead of the UK for a spring holiday.

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