Problem Passport is A Pain in Portugal

by Mark on July 19, 2010

I am watching a group of Iroquois lacrosse players trying to reach a tournament in Great Britain with only their tribal passport. The UK will not let them in without a U.S. Passport. I used to take these international documents for granted until the day I was deported from Portugal.

It was 2004 and a few of us were travelling to Lisbon to address the Kodak European Sales Meeting. It was a treat to fly via the Kodak corporate jet, a sleek and comfortable ride across the Atlantic. By this time Europe had been my destination over eighty times, all on commercial airlines. Yawning in the early morning I queued up at the Lisbon passport desk. The immigration officer studied the worn blue book, turning it over several times and frowning. She excused herself and soon brought over another serious officer. The pair asked me to join them in an office. This of course separated me from my colleagues. I later learned they were told I would not be joining them – at least in Portugal.

In the post 9-11 world you quickly learned to be polite to all immigration and airport personnel. In very good English I was asked to present a drivers license and credit card. For an hour we debated my true identity. Finally, they revealed my passport had expired. How and why had I come to Lisbon with the wrong passport? I admitted I was a dumb pack rat that for some reason kept old souvenirs, like one stamped with so many different countries around the world. Coming on a corporate jet fell outside airline processes that airport processes that would have halted my trip at the home airport.
A call to the U.S. Embassy was not helpful. Begging did not work. They explained it had only been two weeks since terrorist bombed trains in nearby Madrid, killing 191 and wounding 1,800. There are no exceptions given the threats around the world.

I was deported and put on the first plane to the U.S. It was the last seat in the back, right next to the rest room. For eight hours of flushes I tried to figure how I pulled the wrong passport and how embarrassing the next few days were going to be. After a firm lecture from the U.S. Immigration officers, I returned home. My wife, also a seasoned traveler, forced me to burn the expired documents in the fireplace. So much for souvenirs.

It took me a while to live it down as the event became one of the two most embarrassing days in my long career. Since that fateful day I must pull out my passport and look at it a dozen or more times before leaving on a trip. You have to appreciate the security people around the world with all the pressure without some bozo bringing the wrong documents. I wish the Iroquois lacrosse players luck. It is tough enough arriving in Europe with the wrong paperwork. I cannot imagine the challenges with clubs in your luggage.

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