I almost didn’t make it to Seattle.
Flying into Sydney early on Saturday morning, I gave my self plenty of time to catch up with people (which didn’t happen) and to do some last minute shopping (which didn’t happen).
I did manage to catch “The Beguiled” in a decent cinema which was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Great film. Sophia Coppola is a wonderful filmmaker.
Spent the day wandering around Sydney City and Circular Quay for the Bastille day Celebrations. Then, as the day closed out, finally heading out to the airport with 4 hours to spare.
10th in line at the check in counter. 1 carry on bag, no checked luggage. Short queues. Perfect.
The check-in lady was enthusiastic, a smiling young Wonder Woman look alike. She scanned my passport, checked my booking and tapped away busily on the small beige keyboard.
I smiled and finally relaxed, taking in the sights and sounds of Sydney Airport (which I generally despise)
My boarding passes printed out with a ‘phhhht’ and she bundled them up ready to hand back. She looked at my passport again. Frowned. Flicked through the pages. Looked at me. Looked back at my passport.
Her smile widened but I saw it instantly drain from her eyes.
Looking up with that same dead smile she said “Excuse me Sir, I just have to check with my Manager about something.”
Then she was gone, along with my passport and boarding passes – all whisked away along with my newfound peace of mind and possibly my hopes and dreams as well.
Mentally I was buzzing – ticking off in my head all of the dodgy countries I’d visited lately (surely not), did I owe anyone money? (no), expired? (no way), US visa? (yep full 5 year B2).
Be cool cool cool. Nothing to see here.
I could see her talking to a few people up the end of the counter and they were flicking through my passport with a mix of curiosity and concern.
A few minutes later she returned.
“I’m sorry Sir, but your passport is damaged and we have to check with Border Security if we can let you fly.”
‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ echoed through my mind as I plastered what was hopefully a relaxed accepting smile on my face.
“Yeah sure, no problems…” I said, leaning casually on the countertop as once again my passport and travel documents vanished into the system.
Fuckitty fuck fuck fuck. Internally I was cursing the carelessly casual Jetstar check-in lady that whipped the damp passport through a scanner a year and a half ago, ripping half a page in it.
Sticky tape in a passport is a bad thing apparently.
The slick cross-fit toned and sunbed-tanned Manager, all crisp suit and buzz- cut hair came over and pulled me aside. He explained “your Passport has a torn page and looks like its been water damaged…it’s in pretty poor shape”.
A heavily sarcastic “Seriously?” escaped my lips before I could stop it.
Ok damage control mode – activate!
“But it works right? It’s just a torn page and some sticky tape. The electronics and the chips work fine. Ive traveled all over Asia and Europe, even the US last year with it in this condition!!” I whined despite my best intentions not to.
“Its not as simple as that…” said the guy, and proceeded to give me the polite but firm lowdown on what could happen with my passport if I tried to travel into the US of A – everything from being turned back AND not allowed entry, held in custody, banned from reentry, fines to the airline that they would pass on to me ($5000 AUD), and the apparent end of my travel world.
Then it took a turn for the worse. A black clad
Nazi gentleman from Border Security came over, with my passport in hand, and started to give me the same story but with much less humanity. He was also English, which actually bugged me a little.
No Australian likes being lectured by an Englishman – it got my back up.
I interrupted at one stage, and he did the aggressive “stop talking” thing to me, so I shut off my “annoyed as hell” switch, bit my tongue and let him finish his piece.
“If it was up to me, I would seize the passport blah blah blah. Its the property of the Australian Government blah blah blah. I tested the electronics and it scans perfectly ( God knows how) but the torn page and the sticky tape makes it legally unusable. If it didn’t have a US Visa in it I’d confiscate it” he said. “You have 2 options – take your chances or rebook your travel and get a new passport”.
“How much time do I have to decide?” I asked politely, mentally rescheduling my trips as he continued.
“Under an hour” he said, checking his watch.
At this stage my head was swimming. Sensing a victory, the Border nazi’s manner softened once he realised I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass about it. “It’s up to you: travel at your own risk or rebook” he said, handing me back my passport and briskly walking away.
Recalculating and recalibration, I sat down and madly googled alternate flights, costed accommodation changes, weighed up the possible risks, messaged some friends ” what should I do?…” “does this sound right?” etc etc.
Running out of time, I decided to risk it. My rationale was that well I either get in or I don’t and if I don’t, then I’ve never been deported before and it might be an interesting experience at the least.
I spoke to the Service Manager and told him i was going to give it a try. He wasn’t happy about it and that’s when the threat of a $5000+ fine came at me – but regardless he handed back my boarding passes and wished me luck.
I checked in, went to the gate, and quietly balanced my unmentionables on a razor blade of tension for the next 10 hours.
*I did meet Kim though so it wasn’t all bad. More on that later.
CUT TO HONOLULU AIRPORT
My sphincter about the size of a pinhead, I lined up at US Customs and Border Control in Hawaii. Scanned my passport in the machines, scanned my Visa. Took my ticket to the guy at the Counter. He checked my passport, Visa and paperwork with barely a grunt or a smile.
“Yes Sir, No Sir, Thank you Sir.” said I.
Ker-chunk. 6 Months entry stamp.
“Have a nice day, Sir”
Day 1 – this is why I love travelling 🙂
These stories write themselves sometimes.