Asia Life Stories

That Time I Lost My Passport At The Airport

I lost my passport at the airport, and now I'm sitting here in the Asylum room.

[Video: Here’s what to do when you lose your passport while in-transit]

There’s a little place in the Beijing airport where you can register to use the AIRPORT-FREE-WIFI network. With an airport as modern as Beijing’s you’d think accessing a WiFi connection would be easy-peasy. Ha, but no. It’s completely confusing, and not all efficient. Especially the part where you have to insert your passport to register an account under your official identity. After you obtain your code from the machine, you’re good to go.

I board my flight to Tokyo, extremely excited for what’s about to come. I mean, even my magazine reads “The Art of Going Solo” and a chapter inside of the magazine is all about Tokyo – it’s like everything is going right, and almost a bit too right.

And that was exactly right.

The flight attendants come around to pass out immigration forms and customs declarations for Japan and I go on as told. This is the same in nearly every country, and by now, I have my passport memorized. I write my number down, and it asks for the expiration date – a date I cannot, for the life of me, memorize. I reach in my bag to grab my passport, and…oh no.

No.

No.

Ok, hold up maybe it’s in another pocket and I mindlessly put it there.

No.

Ok, what about in this pouch?

Nope. Not there either.

Oh no.

I look up at the headrest TV and see “Time to Destination: 1:02 minutes.” It’s the little things like these that you remember when disaster strikes. I pressed the orange call button, and then I remember the flight attendant’s puzzled expression when I said “My passport. Beijing.” speaking in the broken English I think they’d understand better. “Yes. My passport. Lost. Beijing Airport.”

And then it hits me. My passport is still in the Wi-Fi machine at Gate E7. It’s right there, face down. I even find a clip on my camera where I’m inserting it, in an attempt to show our YouTube audience just how to access the unnecessarily difficult Wi-Fi in Beijing’s Airport [Video: To Tokyo I Go]. Instead, we get to learn something else: what to do when you lose your passport while in-transit.

Lost passport at the airport = stuck in customs

The flight attendant writes down +8696158, which is great and all for numbers, but 1) my phone doesn’t work in Japan, and 2) immediately after you deboard an aircraft in a foreign country, every sign says “no phones.” So just imagine. You’re literally stuck. Stuck with no passport, no phone, and no internet. And mind you, I’m solo traveling, so just add no body to that list while we’re at it.

So you’re stuck. Well, stuck until you go against all the rules and log on to the free Wi-Fi internet (see Beijing, in Tokyo, you don’t need to register at a machine), and immediately ask Jo via Facebook Messenger to call Beijing’s Lost and Found.

I sprint to the Immigration counter and proclaim in my broken, to-the-point English “Passport. Lost. Beijing.” then I flail my arms like, now what I can do? He slightly smiles because he knows I’m in a lot of trouble, then gets out of his seat and walks me over to the Immigration Office. I meet with another man, then a woman, then another man – it’s like every person he can tell I’ll lost my passport along the way, he does. He hands me off finally to a woman who tries understanding even my broken English. I even said “F*ck it. I’m pulling out my phone in front of you and using Google Translate.”

At this point, I see that Jo messaged me that Beijing Lost and Found has my passport. At least that’s a phew. Then I get the next message “…but they want you to go back to Beijing to get it.”

Seriously.

I look up and continue my disaster of a situation with the woman. “Ahhh, your friend in Beijing get passport?”

“No. My friend. Los Angeles. Call. Beijing. Beijing. Passport. Yes.”

It doesn’t help that when I’m explaining 1) they look at my immigration form and see that I wrote down “Occupation: Actor” (something I always do to not get questioned about being a YouTuber) and 2) that I went against every flashing-red sign and used my phone to get a hold of Jo.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing every last person on our flight collect their luggage, and I try explaining that I have a copy of my passport in my luggage, and on my laptop. It doesn’t matter; They need the real deal.

After probably the fifth person I’ve talked to and one hour going by, the customs officer proclaimed “siesta” and banished me to a sad room in the corner with a huge sign that read ASYLUM blocked off from everyone else. Typical procedure, he nodded.

Lost passport at the airport = Detained in the Asylum room for 10 hours

An hour passes.

Then another hour.

Then I’m like, ok, hello. What can I do to help this situation? I cut all the flight attendants waiting in line to go through their special Customs line and blurt out unashamedly, “My passport. Lost. Beijing. Me. Wait. Hours. Asylum Room. Now what?” At this point, the English-speaking flight crews are looking at me with both curiosity and pity.

“Back to room. You wait.”

I slug back like a sad puppy, making awkward eye contact with the flight attendants, pilots, and passengers getting off newer flights, all while they’re probably wondering what I could possibly have done to end up in the Asylum room.

Another hour of waiting goes by, which at this point to me means another hour of feeling both sick to my stomach and not too sad, because I know it’ll 1) make for some interesting YouTube video and blog, and 2) will actually help people out, since the only related article I could find online was a Quora entry where a man left his passport on the airplane. Not all the same. I left mine in the airport in China. I’m in Japan.

A woman appears in the Asylum room and informs me that there are two options. Ooh, options! I like options. “First, you fly back to China…” Ok, never mind, I don’t like options. “…you get passport, you return to Japan. Two, Air China flight bring passport.”

Excited, I nearly cut her off, “Yes, number two! Number two! I wait long time. No problem!” After reading the Quora entry, I learned that it is possible to fly back to the country you left your passport in, and that the airline would have to send you back free of charge, and then if you’re nice enough, they would just change the original time of departure on your ticket to fly you back on your return to the country you were wanting to visit. It sounded like it would be free, but still, I’d prefer to wait than to do all of that – especially since, what happens when I land back in Beijing without a passport? I would have to go through Customs again and it would be the same mess.

The woman leaves and fifteen minutes later, a man enters, smiles, and through some chuckling, he says “Oh man, you lucky. Air China flight bring passport. 9:30pm arrive. You very lucky!” And I smiled, and nervously chuckled, and said “Thank you, thank you, domo arigato gozaimasu!”

Nine hours go by. Yes, ninewhich were roughly enough to film an entire video on the subject, and take two naps. Talk about jet lag.

Getting the passport

So 9:30pm rolls around, and the drama ensues. I’m eagerly awaiting someone to jump into the room and hand me my passport, but the clock keeps ticking. 9:45pm. 10:00pm. I see loads of new flights arriving, and run back out into Customs, cutting the entire Flight Crew line again, and I try to find the man who told me the good news nine hours ago, but guess what? They changed staff, and CONVENIENTLY NO ONE INFORMED THE STAFF THAT I WAS SLEEPING AWAY IN THE ASYLUM ROOM BECAUSE I WAS WAITING ON MY PASSPORT TO ARRIVE FROM CHINA.

“9:30pm. Air China Flight arrive. Passport?” A woman, whose face I remember ever-so-clearly gave me a blank stare and started speaking in Japanese. “Let me see your passport.” she says.

I DON’T HAVE MY PASSPORT. Here we go again.

“No, me. Lose. Passport. China. Me. Wait. Passport. Air China. Flight. Bring. Passport.” –

As I’m speaking in simple English while gesturing my hands back and forth every time I refer to my flight, a flight attendant appears and says, “Ahh!” and points to a shiny American passport in his hand.

OH MY GOD. VICTORY. THAT’S ME. THAT’S IT!

I hug the man, which I later found out is a no-no in Asian culture. He squirmed a bit, but was happy for me. I kissed my passport (again, he squirmed) and ran back to the Asylum room, grabbed my stuff, and literally went through the Diplomat line at Customs.

I gathered my luggage from the lost luggage department. The employee wanted to see my boarding pass, but after passing it around so many times before Customs, it was long gone by now. I find a picture in my iPhone gallery  of the bag and show how there is the same luggage tag on the backpack I’m carrying and the luggage I’m trying to retrieve. She hands me my luggage, and I booked it out Tokyo Haneda airport faster than I’ve ever booked it before.

So I lost my passport at the airport. Here’s what to do if you lose your passport while in-transit:

WAIT FOR A FLIGHT CREW TO BRING IT: If you’re fine with waiting, you may be able to convince the airport you lost your passport in to fly it to you on the next flight out. It’s not very likely they’ll do this, as they explained to me, but then again, they did do it for me.

FLY BACK TO THE COUNTRY: This sucks, but you might have to do it. If you have to, try to convince the airline to send you back, and then to change your flight ticket departure time for another flight free of charge.

CALL YOUR COUNTRY’S EMBASSY/CONSULATE IN THE FOREIGN COUNTRY: If the above two solutions fail, you call your country’s embassy or consulate in the foreign country and someone will come to your rescue. They’re always able to reprint you a document to fly with, but from my experience with embassies and consulates, it is never a pleasant experience.


Have you ever lost your passport while in-transit?

Comment below your horror story and what you did to resolve the unfortunate situation!

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  • Giovanni

    Omg, my anxiety level would’ve beaten the maximum level! My brother once lost his passport during an exchange in United States, it was so complicated to get him another one, thank God my mom was very patient and smart, anyway nice post u guys are awesome!

    • It’s definitely nerve-wracking, and while it’s definitely a set-back, this story and your brother’s just go to show you it’ll all (eventually) be okay!

  • Mariana S

    I cringed all through this video — I’m always clutching at my passport (I misplace things a lot). But I actually came back for the post to check if you don’t use insurance when travelling. Isn’t it supposed to cover these things? Doesn’t Japan require some form of insurance?

    • Nope. I have never used travel insurance! And I’m not too sure what they would have even covered in this case? Maybe if I had to fly back to the country!

  • Tom Nguyen

    It’s weird to know that you can board an international flight without a passport because with my experience travelling within Asian countries, your passport gets checked twice: once at the security point and once more in line for boarding (normall procedure to most airlines, hey Air China) by an airport staff.
    Moreover, most people speaks English in airports so instead of speaking basic English try speaking normal English in full sentences and speak slower, it’s not the “english” people are worried about, it’s their listening skills. I know how embarrassing and nervous it is to talk (ESL here fellas) to a first English speaker. Anyway I hope you had a great time in Tokyo!

    • Nope! They only checked it once at Security to “speed up the process,” I guess!

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