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Sorry, Your Son Won't Be Travelling With Us Today

By Sophie Lee - 10th December 2010

What follows is a lesson on adhering to the warnings found in the small print of your travel documents.

 We had a family holiday to Bali booked a year in advance, you see, and it was our dangling carrot, guiding us through end-of-year malaise, the mishmash of bubbling mince on the stove top, the rush to beat the traffic for music lessons, the tedium of swim squad and the daily ironing of uniforms. Ever get to that point of the school term where you feel as though you’re limping towards a finish line? Well, Bali was it. We couldn’t wait for the friendly smiles, the wild, honking chaos of the traffic, the aroma of Bebek Betutu, the dawn chorus of roosters and early mornings on beaches where the smoke from temple sacrifices lingers in the air.

If you’re anything like me it takes you up to a week to pack for a family holiday. Once you get past all the preparation, juggling three kids on a seven-hour flight seems the easy part. You can call me Nurse Lee, as I have a bag specially dedicated to First Aid. Let’s see, there’s the bottle of drops for swimmer’s ear and the obligatory insect repellent as well as ointment for the stingers that crash through the insect repelling barrier. There’s lanolin for little bottoms, tablets for bloated bellies, hand sanitiser for post-elephant-ride lunches, infant formula and bottles for same, sterilizer for the bath water, sunscreen, aftersun and after-aftersun, headache pills, infant paracetamol drops, emergency antibiotics and about a dozen other products I won’t bore you with now, but believe me what I’ve listed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. We can now move on to swimming paraphernalia: goggles (or ‘geggles’ as my youngest calls them), assorted floatation devices, boogie boards and snorkels with masks and flippers- not to mention rashees, bikinis, one-pieces, boardshorts and swimmer nappies. Speaking of which, I know from past experience that my youngest prefers his tried and tested brand of diapers to the frilly, pink Indonesian ones, so that’s half another suitcase gone with nappies, pullups, wipes, nappy-rash creams and a variety of liquid bottom cleansers. And I haven’t even started on hats …

The day of our holiday finally arrived and after a week of packing, condensing, repacking, then remembering all the last-minute things like pouring away the rancid milk, switching on the alarm and taking out the garbage, there was both excitement and relief as we clambered into the taxi early Saturday morning with slices of vegemite toast in hand. My lists and thorough organisation seemed to have paid off: the bath tap definitely wasn’t running, work was complete and for the first time in months I felt the sort of deep peace that comes with the assurance that all known bases have been covered. We had a dream run to the airport and were early to the check-in desk, even beating our super-organised travelling companions, so I didn’t mind that my two youngest immediately started biting each other on the little bit of carpet they’d rolled out in front of Section H of International departures.

Family holiday, eh?” said the smiling airline rep. “Could your little guy stand up so that I can check him against his passport?

Up you get, mate,” I said. “Show the lady your face.”  

 But instead of looking at his face as he scrambled to his feet she continued to stare at his passport. She frowned a little and seemed to be wordlessly counting on her fingers.

Something wrong?” I enquired.

Just then our friends arrived and stood in line behind us, the older kids hugging each other and squealing with excitement about the holiday that lay just a few short hours ahead.

 “Hi guys! Won’t be a sec,” I said smiling at them and then turning back around to the airline rep. Her expression hadn’t changed.
 “What is it?” I asked.
I’m sorry,” she replied, “but your son won’t be travelling with us today.”
What?
 She held up his passport. “This is invalid.
No, it’s not,” I said, jabbing at the air. “They’re all valid, I checked them myself.”
The airline rep seemed to clench her jaw and exhale.
 “Not according to Indonesian law, it’s not,” she said. “If you’d read the fine print you’d have seen that Indonesia requires six months’ validity on all passports and your son is no exception.
Huh? But, hold on … when does his passport expire?” I asked.

She counted on her fingers again.  “In five months and two weeks,” she said.

 It was at this point that the squeals of excitement around me turned to sobs of disappointment. My five-year-old son looked up at me and said “Mummy, what did the lady say? Didn’t you remember my ticket?
Everything’s fine,” I said to him, ruffling his mop. 

I now tried pleading with the woman who had suddenly been transformed before my gaze from a welcoming angel to vengeful witch hell-bent on blighting our holiday.
Come on! Can’t you just let us go?  The Indonesian officials may not be as good at maths as you. After all, it’s only two weeks he’s missing and I’m sure they’ll be okay with that at their end. They’re very kind, you know.”
Sorry,” she said, sympathetically, shaking her head.
I know people…” I began feebly.
I don’t care who you know,” said the airline rep firmly, “I’m the one that will cop the ten thousand dollar fine.
Well, now, that sounds a little excessive," I said, squeezing my son’s hand. The game was up.
Right then,” she said briskly, “What do you want to do? Seeing as it’s Saturday you’ll have to wait until Monday to go to the passport office to get him a new passport. You can easily download the forms online, but we wouldn’t be able to book you on another flight till Tuesday at the earliest. Even then, since it’s school holidays, I’m not sure we’d be able to re-book all of you for that day…” she paused, checking the data on her screen. “Uh-oh, I see here that Foreign Affairs are on  holiday on Monday, so that will probably delay his passport being issued which would mean a Wednesday flight at the very earliest, provided there are seats available…”

The torture continued for another minute or so but I’ll spare you the details and conclude by saying it’s always best to read the fine print even if it gives you a migraine. Fortunately, as it happens, I have migraine medication in my First Aid bag, which is still standing by the door.

Or maybe everybody but me knows this particular provision of Indonesian immigration law and I’m just a big idiot who carries the entire contents of a pharmacy in one suitcase and invalid passports in the other.

May you have better luck if you are travelling overseas this holiday and I wish you a disaster-free check-in.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.
And bring on 2011!

Comments (7)

I feel your pain!

Sophie, I've told your story to several people to cheer them up, believe it or not! It's kind of comforting in a perverse way to hear of a really rotten experience like yours. A few years back I was delayed on a Jetstar flight with a newborn and a not-yet-walking 18-month-old. After twelve hours we made it from Sydney to Geelong. Would have been faster to drive, but at least we got there same day.
Hope your next holiday goes smoothly!

Small print

This is a very timely story. We've just got back from a family holiday to Fiji and before we go I happened to see the rule about needing an additional 6 months on the passport. Like you, our passport still had 5 months 3 weeks to go and I almost didn't bother renewing it. There really should be much more publicity on this matter so thanks for raising it.

Thank you for sharing this hard lesson in customs law

Well written too Sophie,

Sounds like the perfect situation to motivate the creation of a family travel advice blog. If more stories like this were shared among families there would be far less heartache like yours. The list alone of medical supplies needed to go to Bali is gold in itself.

Most bad events lead us to a new set of experiences we would have missed. Did the delay give you any positive situations you would normally not have had?

kind regards
Tony
( @thewordpressguy )

Airline Waiver

We encountered a similar problem but the airline drew up a waiver form to say we chose to travel anyway and it is was our problem if we arrived to destination (malaysia) and they noticed lack of one month on passport, and the airline wouldnt be hit with fines etc, etc.... We didnt need waiver form on arrival into Malaysia because they barely looked at our passports! It was very nerve wracking though waiting to see if they'd notice the discrepency. I believe we were flying out of Germany at the time so they may have different rules to oz!?

If it's any consolation

I know a couple for whom this happened on their honeymoon. I think the groom had the requisite six months but the bride did not. It was the same then. No go.

As I recall, the Australian Consulate fast tracked a new passport for the bride and they left for Bali together a few days later. If the groom had departed on the original flight I expect they'd be divorced by now!

Pretty sure it's the same for other countries too (such as Hong Kong).

I am due to fly to Bali on Friday!

And am now having a MAJOR Panic attack...

That is just the biggest nightmare I have ever heard of.

Nooooooo!

Or at least that's what the airline agent would have heard first off. How completely and utterly cruddy to be left standing with your first aid bag laden and no where to go. If anyone deserves a fabulous Christmas celebration, it would be you and yours!!

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