Passports and life when you can’t find them

Behind the wheel – An occasional series by Michael de Laine

Should the need arise, Danish citizens can get a temporary, emergency passport at Copenhagen Airport, but foreign travellers who lose a passport face difficulties.

When taxiing, there are times when I have to drive people to airports, railway stations and ports with baggage and not much time. Rushing your packing because of the pressure of time can cause problems, but so do forgetfulness and inattention, as two stories from last weekend show.

On the Saturday I received a radio fare from the dispatcher.

On arrival at the address, I could see a young man who was taking clothes out of a wardrobe, clearly packing a bag. A minute later, while this young man continued his packing activities, a woman and a youth left the apartment block, each with baggage – the woman’s a large holdall, the youth’s a smallish suitcase.

“My other son has only just come home and hasn’t finished packing,” the woman said as I loaded the holdall and the suitcase into the boot. “I hope he’s not taking too much, as I have only booked the one case for the flight – everything must be packed into that.”

“We can do that, Mum,” the youth said.

“When he comes, we’re going to Hellerup station,” the woman added.

They could get a train directly to the airport from the station, about seven minutes’ drive away.

The young man came out at last, with a larger suitcase than his brother’s. The woman repeated to them that they would either have to pack everything in the holdall or pay extra for their baggage. Obviously they were flying by a discount airline, where baggage in any form was an extra cost, and if you paid for it at the airport it was more expensive than paying for it when booking the ticket.

“And you’ll pay for the taxi while we’ve been waiting,” she told her elder son.

We drove off, but after 250 metres, during which he rummaged in a shoulder bag and his jacket, the young man said, “Mum, do you have my passport?”

“No.”

“Then I don’t know where it is,” he said. “We must go back.”

So we returned to the address, and I turned the taxi round while he went into the flat. A few minutes later he returned empty-handed.

“Dad must have it,” he said, and called his father on his mobile. But dad didn’t have it.

“It’s the same story as last time,” the mother said. “We had to get a temporary, emergency passport issued at the airport.” But that was a problem: “We’re divorced and we both have custody over the children, so the father had to sign a form authorising the police to issue new passports. Luckily he was in Copenhagen.”

We drove off again, and while the young man went though his pockets and shoulder bag again, his mother asked me how much it would cost to go directly to the airport, as they were running out of time. I gave her my estimate.

“Found it!” the young man suddenly said, “it was in a pocket inside the shoulder bag!”

“When does the train leave?” his brother asked, and the young man checked the timetable on his mobile phone. “There’s one in ten minutes and a second one five minutes later,” he said.

As the mother booked their tickets on her smartphone, we made good progress and they could catch the first train.

She paid cash, and I drove round to the taxi rank at the station as the second taxi in the line-up.

Ten minutes later, my telephone rang. It was the dispatcher.

“You’ve just driven some customers to the station.” A question and a statement.

“Yes.”

“One of the passengers has left a pair of sunglasses in a door pocket.”

“I’ll check… Yes, they’re here. I’m still at the station.”

“They’re in the train,” the dispatcher said. “Can you ring to them and find out what to do about it?” He gave me the number.

I called the mother. We worked something out. I’d go back to her flat and she would ring to a neighbour, whom I would give the sunglasses to, and she’d pay me via a smartphone-based payment system. And the young man would end up compensating her for the extra costs.

The situation was rather more difficult on the Sunday.

Another radio fare. I had to collect a passenger from one of the hotels we serve.

All he had with him was a plastic shopping bag.

“I have to go to the airport,” he said in English with an accent. “Lufthansa, so terminal 2, please.”

“No baggage?” I asked.

“No baggage,” he said with a sigh.

As we drove that 20-minute trip, he gave me a resume of his situation.

He and his wife, both Canadians, were in Europe on holiday and were taking a cruise from Copenhagen. They’d been in Germany and had flown to Copenhagen from Munich. The cruise line had picked them and their baggage up the airport on the Saturday, transferred them to the cruise terminal and delivered their baggage to their cabin.

But it was as they were checking in that their – his – problem became apparent. He no longer had his passport.

His wife had had their passports and boarding passes when checking in at Munich, but only her passport and boarding passes here at the cruise terminal.

They made a thorough search of their clothes and hand baggage, but still couldn’t find his passport. They were allowed on board the cruise ship to get his baggage, and he went to the hotel – where they would be staying after their cruise finished – while his wife went on the cruise.

Through the hotel the Canadian man contacted the Danish police and Lufthansa in Munich late on Saturday afternoon, thinking that he had dropped his passport in the secure airside areas at the two airports, or on the airplane. Lufthansa was closed and no passport had been handed in to the Danish police. And the Canadian Embassy was closed, of course.

So this Canadian’s immediate mission was to contact the Lufthansa office at the airport in person. I told him about – and showed him – the police station at the airport, and said that, if one of the airport contractors was responsible for cleaning the Lufthansa aircraft, it might take several hours, or a day at the weekend, before lost and found items ended up at the police or airport office.

Then the Canadian said he hoped that either his passport could be located or he could get a new one from the embassy (he had a colour photocopy of his now missing passport, which would be useful as ID) on the Monday, so he could travel to Warnemünde in Germany, where the cruise ship would dock on the Tuesday.

“How much would it cost if I took a taxi with the three large suitcases that I have to Warnemünde?” he asked.

Using my GPS and a quick calculation I said, “From Copenhagen to Gedser, where the ferry to Rostock leaves, the fare would be about DKK 2,500. It’s about an hour and a half sailing time, when the taximeter would be ticking away, and then the journey from Rostock to vessel at Warnemünde, plus return ticket for the taxi on the ferry. But I have no idea of what that would cost all in all, and I suggest you call the taxi company to get a fixed price for the journey.”

“I’ll do that,” he said. “Would you drive me here on Tuesday?”

“I wish I could,” I told him, “but I’m not driving this week.”

I later found out that the cruise ship terminal at Warnemünde is perhaps 25 km from the ferry terminal at Rostock, equating to almost DKK 400; the ferry trip would cost about DKK 650 on the taximeter plus the return ferry ticket.

So the trip would cost him almost DKK 4,000 plus the ferry – which he said his insurance would pay.

I never asked him how he entered Denmark without showing his passport, and I wonder whether he dropped it at passport control, and could quickly retrieve it from the Danish police or the airport authority on the Sunday. And I never heard the outcome of this adventure.

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