Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where's my passport? Oh there it is.

Okay. Apparently my subconscious was a little less excited about heading to Dublin.

Richard and I had just landed in Chicago O'Hare airport Thursday and deplaned when I realized I no longer had possession of my passport. Mind you, we took eight suitcases between us and 2 carry-on bags, and the one thing I didn't have was the only thing I needed to get in the country. It was a moment straight out of some generic sitcom. After some frantic unpacking of my computer bag to ensure it really wasn't there, we headed to the nearest American Airlines agent. I will not bore you with the details. Her response to my problem was, "Wow. What are you going to do?" Incredibly unhelpful. To make things slightly more complicated, it was 29 degrees, windy and snowing at O'Hare so there were delays all over and crowds of people waiting to find out if and when their flights would depart. So chaos everywhere. Richard sat down with the phone and the computer and started calling every number for American Airlines and IAH he could find. Everyone was incredibly unhelpful.

I, meanwhile, went up and down terminal K searching for a gate that wasn't surrounded by angry passengers. I came accross gate K13. Looking back, I wonder if it was surrounded by a glowing light drawing me there like in movies when someone finds "the answer" to their quest. And the source of that light would have been Lukas. Lukas, the American Airlines agent with a heart and a brain, listened to my problem, called the Houston agents and asked if anyone had turned in my passport. After several phone calls, Lukas, my hero, informed me that someone had turned in my passport in Houston and they were working on getting it flown to O'Hare. At this point my heart starting beating normally again, my panic subsided and Richard stopped looking like he was going to kill me.

My passport wouldn't arrive until 10:30pm that night, so I'd have to take a flight the next day and join Richard one day later. "No big deal," I thought, "I am extremely lucky I'm getting there at all." So we made my hotel reservations (thank goodness for Marriott points), and I saw Richard and his co-workers off to Dublin. I then settled in for the 3 hour wait for flight 2374, my passports flight. It was arriving at gate H18. Lukas told me it would be placed in a box and given to the flight attendants in Houston and routed through DFW since there were no more directs from Houston that night. Meet the plane at the gate was all I had to do to retrieve it.

And the story would be one to look back on and laugh at, and indeed at this point I was laughing about it. If it had only ended here. But it didn't.

It's now 11:25pm and my passport's flight is arriving after much delay since there were delays in DFW as well as O'Hare. I waited and waited for the plane to empty out, the crew to finish cleaning up and the flight attendants to deplane. Finally I saw them and inquired who had my passport. The two up front looked at each other quizzically. They called back to the attendants who were straggling, "Did anyone hear anything about a passport or a box?" There it was, my panic was back. They suggested I check the other DFW incoming flights. Three flights had landed at the same time since there had been such bad delays at both airports. I ran to the nearest display board to try to find the gates for the two other flights. The board was off, so I ran to the next one. It said H13 so ran back that direction and the plane and attendants were long gone. There was one lone gate attendant and I asked her if she had seen or heard anything about a box or passport the flight attendants would have been bringing. She looked at my like I was crazy and said you should check lost and found. I then asked if she knew if Lukas was still working, desperately hoping someone who understood what was going on would be able to speak to me. She didn't know. Incredibly unhelpful. I ran to H6 which is where the last DFW flight had arrived. No one was even at that gate anymore. I asked the nearest American Airlines employee if they had seen Lukas. He said he thought he was parking the plane. So I waited. A woman who was definitely not Lukas came out from the gate. The man looked at me and said, "I guess she parked the plane." He shrugged and suggested I look at the rebooking center. So I ran direction. They said they just saw him heading toward K6. I ran to K6. At this point it was nearly midnight and everyone I asked for help from had their bag packed and was heading home. They had had a long day with delays and angry people and clearly didn't want my problem to deal with. And I really couldn't blame them. I didn't want my problem either. At K6 I pleaded with the gate attendant (who was not Lukas) to call for Lukas on the intercom or look into my record to find my passport. Finally when I wouldn't leave she looked at my record. She said there was no record of any package being sent on Flight 2374 or any other flight. She also said I wasn't booked on tomorrow's flight. I then lost all hope of her competency since I had already logged and chosen a seat for my flight tomorrow. I did manage to badger her into giving me a direct phone number for the Chicago ticket desk which is apparently where Lukas usually works.

Defeated, I headed toward the exit and the taxi line. As I walked I left another message with Lost & Found. Their message states at the front that they won't call you back unless they find your item. They also said they'd be open at 8am. The ticket counter opened at 6am. So there was nothing I could until morning. I thought, "It's 12:30 now, I'll get a few hours sleep, then wake up and start calling people." The taxi line at O'Hare was a mere 45 minute wait since there were so many delayed flights. I waited. There's an entire other story about the incompetent taxi line employees, but it really just ends in more of me waiting. I arrived at the Residence Inn near the airport, set three alarms for 5:50am and passed out, exhausted and deflated.

At 5:50 am, I finally gave up on getting any sleep since I couldn't stop tossing and turning. I got up and started calling the number I had been given. No answer until right at 6am. At 6am my angel, Yolanda, answered. Lukas was my hero, but he fell short of angel when he didn't put a note on my record about my passport which led to no one else believing my story. It took awhile to explain to Yolanda what had happened. She couldn't find any record of the passport in my flight record, but she did confirm I was booked on the flight out for today, routed through London-Heathrow since the direct to Dublin only runs every other day. She asked me a bunch of questions I couldn't answer, took my number and promised she start working on it and call me when she found anything. She said she'd give Lukas a few more hours sleep if we couldn't find it and call him at home. She was very sweet though and said "Feel free to call me every 30 minutes or so if you don't hear from me." She must be used to dealing with impatient people. :)

I phoned her back every so often and in the meantime make many phone calls to DFW and IAH trying to track my passport. When I did get to speak to a human they were all incredibly unhelpful. Around 9:30, I spoke to Yolanda and she said, "I just can't find it. I've talked to the flight attendant office and everyone else and no one has heard anything about it." I then asked her if she thought there was a good chance I would never see it again. She responded that there was a very good chance. My mind raced and thought through all the things I would have to do to get to Dublin now. Replace my passport. Okay, I'd call Rachel who is still close with the staff in the Congressional office she used to work in. They can get it expidited. I'd call my Aunt Maura in Chicago and stay with her until my new passport arrived. I'd go to Target and get something else to wear, especially underwear. My mind kept racing. I phoned Rachel, who was wondering how I like Dublin. I told her, I'd tell her when I got there, if I got there. I finally let the panic take over a 20 minutes telling Rachel what had happened. I got control of myself and started making more phone calls because I wasn't ready to give up yet.

After more fruitless phone calls, my cell phone rang at just after 10am. It was Yolanda. She said, "I've found your passport. It's in Chicago." I said something that must have been funny because she laughed at me and said I was the luckiest person. I agreed and made plans to get to the airport immediately and regain possession of my passport. About 3 minutes later, I got a phone call from Lost & Found who said they were returning my call and they had my passport. I now felt confident with two independent groups saying they knew my passport was in Chicago. But I wanted it in my hands.

I phoned Rachel and let he know that the panic was over, showered, put on the same clothes as yesterday, and headed to the airport. The Lost & Found person asked, "How'd you miss it? It was in a huge box." Apparently the agent in Houston had put it in a giant box and sent it as checked luggage, not with the flight attendants. It had also only been marked with my name. So no one knew how to get it to me when it showed up on the baggage claim unmarked. She said I was the luckiest person. I agreed again.

The rest of my experience was typical airport fun. I landed in Heathrow exhausted. I was detained by immigration in London since I wasn't travelling with Richard who has the Irish work permit. They had me detained while they called the Irish government to see if it was okay to send me on. The Irish said, sure whatever. I landed and Dublin and finally made it home. It was only 27 hours after Richard had landed, but it seemd like much longer.

Thank you to Lukas and Yolanda. And a special thank you to the anonymous good samaritan in Houston who turned in my passport.

It's so good to be home.


  1. Wow, you ARE the luckiest girl! And what a great story to start off your adventure overseas . . .