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.