Caveat Viator: Part I

The Marsh Boardwalk at Hunting Island State Park
(from Wikipedia with thanks)
This is about a disaster. My wife’s passport was either lost or stolen. We may never know which. It doesn’t really matter. In either case it is a disaster. Think of this blog as a warning; never ever, ever travel. Or, if you do, understand to the very core of your being that you do so at great risk. Instead of writing this blog, I should be in my own bed pulling the covers over my head, wishing that all this would go away. It will someday.

This is what happened. Yesterday, at Logan Airport, somewhere between the ostentatiously labeled security podium where you have to take off your shoes unless, like me, you are 77 years old, and the Jet Blue gate where they ask for ID, my wife, Nancy, realized that her passport was gone. She had taken it out at security. That was the last she saw of it. Did someone swipe it? Did it drop between the rollers at the security podium? Did it get caught in the X-ray machine? Who knows? In a sane world this would have been at best a minor irritation. But in our world it is a bonanza for the airlines and a disaster for the traveler.

When the passport disappeared, we were embarking on the first leg of our journey to India. Our flight would take us to New York where we would take Qatar Airlines to Doha and then on to Chennai (Madras). A helpful Jet Blue attendant said he would look for our passport and get it on the next flight to us. Thank you, Leonardo.

An hour later Leonardo phones and leaves a message. No sign of the passport. Call Transport Security Administration (hereinafter TSA) lost and found. He leaves a number. I call. A recording says they are open from 8am to 4pm except holidays. It is now 7pm.

Maybe it isn’t a problem. Nancy has a photocopy of the first page of her passport and of her visa for India. We go to Qatar Airlines. The attendant at the counter says no way can Nancy enter Qatar with a photocopy of her passport. She must have the real thing.

Since a replacement passport will take maybe a day, we will miss the flight. Not to worry, says Qatar. Just change the departure date. Can you do that for us? Sorry, she says. You will have to contact the booking agent. He must do it. Not to worry, says Qatar again. There will be no penalties, no extra fees.

The representative at Qatar is very helpful. She tells us that we can get a replacement passport at a post office in Jamaica, NY. Really? It is nearby. She gives us the contact information. We find a hotel close to the post office. We determine to go there in the morning.

By now it is 10pm. Time to call it a day. At 8am the next morning I call the post office.  They say there is no way they can help us. They tell us that we need to call the national passport center. We do. That center says that for a replacement passport we will need a birth certificate, an old passport and proof that we intend to leave the country. The first two are back in Boston. Is there no way we can get a replacement without going back to Boston? Yes, says the national passport center, but it will cost $395 and no telling how long it may take.

We’ll think about it, I say. I call TSA lost and found. Maybe they have found the passport and all our problems will be solved.  By now it is 8:20am. TSA lost and found will have been open for 20 minutes. I call. The recording reminds me once again that office hours are 8am to 4pm. It says the same thing at 8:30am, 9am, 10am, 11am and noon. I am invited to leave a message. I do, but my heart isn't in it.

A TSA representative at JFK offers that lost passports are normally handed over to the airlines. Great! Maybe Jet Blue has it. We call their administration number. A recording tells me that we can dial an extension at any time. We don’t have an extension. Frantic to talk to a human being, I start punching random numbers. The recording assures me that none of those numbers are recognizable.

Maybe someone found the passport and turned it into the Massport lost and found. Online we find a number. A recording asks us to leave our name and number. If one didn’t know better, one would think that all these organizations were conspiring to keep their customers and themselves from talking to one another.

We decide we have no choice but to return to Boston, gather the necessary bits and pieces of information and get a replacement. Just before take-off at 1pm my cell phone rings. Someone at TSA has gotten my message.  She is returning my call. Hallelujah! They've found it, I think. No passport, says the TSA lady. The stewardess tells me to turn off my cell phone. When we arrive back at Logan, we check the TSA security podium and the Massport and Jet Blue lost and founds. Nothing.

We hear from Qatar Airlines. We spent an hour talking to them the night before when we tried unsuccessfully to board. That was when they recommended the post office. They also said that because we were trying to board, we would definitely not be labeled no-shows. This afternoon back in Boston I get an e-mail. Qatar has declared us no-shows. A line pops into my head: United breaks guitars. Qatar breaks promises.

In Boston the passport people tell us they will deliver an emergency replacement if we can show that we have reservations to travel. We can get those reservations only if we have an Indian visa. However, the Indian visa company says that a visa cannot be issued unless we have a passport. If this seems like a Catch-22, then clearly you know how to count.

Have you ever been on one of those nature hikes where local environmentalists have built a path over an endangered marshland? There is a picture of one at the top of this blog.  That is how I see travel. As long as I stay on the boardwalk, I'm fine.  But step off it and I'm up to here in muck.

Remember the admonition: caveat emptor ‘buyer beware?' Here is my update: caveat viator ‘traveler beware.’