“Excuse me, but I’m going to need some help when we land. I can’t seem to find my passport. I think it may be in the wall of the plane.”
This is seriously the last thing I expected to have to say less than an hour before reaching Kenya…
I had my passport out to fill out my immigration form when we hit some turbulence it fell off the tray and the disappeared into the abyss. After 30 minutes of fruitless searching and asking my neighbors to look around their seats, I
calmly reasoned that it couldn’t vanish panicked a little.
At this point you need to understand the depth of my hatred for the Nairobi airport. It is one long, dimly-lit hallway where there are roughly 7 chairs for the millions (ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration) of people waiting for their flights. Of my last two trips through this airport, one involved spending 12 hours sitting on a barstool after about 24 hours of no sleep and the other I was standing in line at to check in for the flight when the electricity went off at midnight for 2 hours. In my mind, I pictured myself being stuck in limbo inside the Nairobi airport waiting for the U.S. Embassy to open the next morning, figuring out a way to contact them with no working cell phone and then waiting all day in my least favorite place on the planet for someone to come and rescue me. I have to tell you, this was not my happiest travel moment. The thought of being stuck there for an indefinite amount of time was just about the worst thing I could imagine after 18 sleepless hours of travel.
During my increasingly frantic search, I noticed a small gap in the wall next to my seat. It was only about a half an inch wide. It seemed silly for me to even consider the possibility that that tiny book had somehow magically found its way through such a narrow space. It just seemed so improbable, but the longer I looked the more I began to actually hope it was there because if it ended up just laying under my seat where I had looked a dozen times, I was going to feel like an idiot.
Once I was certain that I could not find it anywhere, I mustered up the courage to let the flight attendant know that I was going to need some help when we landed. After she crawled under my seat and looked and then had her supervisor do the same, they came to the same conclusion that I had. At this point, I pictured that little blue book somehow falling completely out of the plane somewhere over Khartoum. That seemed about as likely as it finding the tiny crack to begin with.
I guess there is this rule that none of the flight crew can get off the plane until all of the passengers deplane. I had to wait until everyone else unloaded for the ground crew to come on and search for my passport. As I stood waiting, a small crowd gathered around me. That was just so much fun – meeting pilots and first class flight attendants who all seemed sure that I just hadn’t looked in my bag hard enough.
After what seemed like an eternity, the ground crew finally found it when they shined a flashlight into the hole. It had fallen all the way into the cargo hold of the airplane. Seriously. They had to take a wall off of the inside of the plane to get it out. (SEE, I KNEW IT WAS DOWN THERE! – that’s what I wanted to say, but instead I said, “thank you so much,” and took my leave)
I have never been so happy to see my passport. I lost my yellow card and none of my 9 pieces of luggage made it to Nairobi with me, but I did not care even a little. I didn’t have to spend my first night in my new home at the airport and that was plenty to be excited about for me.