Every once in a while you’ll hear horror stories about people who were ready to go over overseas but they couldn’t because something happened to their passport. Maybe it was lost – like the time I freaked out the night before we went to Japan. Maybe it was stolen.
Whatever the case, unless you’re a refugee, nowadays it would be pretty impossible to get onto an international flight without your passport in hand. However, in the halcyon days that were pre-9/11, almost anything was possible. Even traveling from the U.S. to the U.K. without a passport. Such was the case of my friend Jonathan. Here’s how he described it…
“Back in May, 1995, or so, on a Wednesday, I was told that I needed to be in Stockholm on the following Monday. So I got packing, and then I spent Thursday and Friday looking for my passport.
“We had been at a friend’s wedding in Canada a few months earlier, so I knew it should be on my desk. Or in the drawer. Or in a suitcase. Or in some other bag. Or I don’t know where. So I’m supposed to fly out on Saturday morning, and I’m still looking and looking…
“I’m originally from the U.K. and had a U.K.-issued passport, so my wife decided to try calling the British consulate here in Los Angeles — at six in the morning. So it turns out that when you call at six o’clock on Saturday morning, your call might be answered by the Consulate General himself, as happened that morning.
“We explained the situation, and he offered that I could come to the office in a few hours with a photo and ID, and he would meet me there and give me a travel doc that should be sufficient to fly – to London.
“So we slept a few hours, and then I drove to the consular office. He gave me a sheet of paper with my information printed, photo attached, and all embossed with his consular stamp.
“We hastily booked me on the next flight to London, and I set off to the airport. Suffice it to say, the agent at the counter had no idea what to do with my one-page not-a-passport. It took a mini-convention of agents, supervisors, and managers to figure out that the document was indeed sufficient to depart from the United States, but it was still unclear whether it would be sufficient to allow me to enter another country.
“After yet another phone call to the poor, beleaguered Consul General, it was confirmed that the U.K. would allow me to enter with only this document, and so I left the U.S. without a passport.
“So when I landed at London Heathrow, the immigration clerk looked at the document, and said “Thank you, I’ll take this now, and the passport office opens at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“I cancelled the London-to-Stockholm ticket, and found a room at a hotel near the airport.
“The next morning, I went to the passport office in London and explained my situation. The clerk was quite sympathetic, and asked for all of the information I knew about my missing passport. I remembered that I had all the numbers and dates on file with our corporate travel department, so I called and got that information, and gave it to the clerk. (this was still before digital photos, or having a scanned copy available online.)
“I took a new passport photo in a self-service booth – it looks rather sad and distressed.
“But the clerk said that all the information was a lifesaver, and should allow them to replace my passport sooner than the fourteen days it would usually take.
“So about an hour later, they call my name. My new passport is ready, thank you very much. Wow – I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do for two weeks!
“I had lunch with a friend from my company’s London office, and he dropped me at the airport for my flight to Stockholm. I arrived only one day late, after all that, and I had a story to tell.
“Oh, about a year later, I found the missing passport stuck in a duty-free bag. Now we keep all of our passports in a fire-safe drawer, and one of the first things we do when we return from a trip is to put them away there.”
Good luck trying to do that nowadays, huh?
*** Many thanks to Jonathan for allowing us to share his story!
*** Feature photo (cropped): Chris Fleming/flickr
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary