OK, I consider myself an expert on traveling, but this next story will make me look like a grade-A charlatan… I mean a total idiot!
It actually happened not so long ago, on the same trip as my week in the Galapagos Islands and Colombia. So I have no excuse of it happening when I was young and/or inexperienced… It was simply a massive and extended brain-fart that could have ruined my entire vacation had it not been for my efficient damage control, extremely forgiving and resourceful girlfriend, and very helpful people at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City.
Our flight to Quito, Ecuador, went as follows: Montreal – Mexico City – Quito. We were to spend a couple of days in Quito before departing on a Tuesday to the Galapagos Islands. Our flight to Mexico City was a breeze: comfortable seats, good food on the flight, and no delay whatsoever. All that was left before we could indulge in exquisite locro de papa soup, ceviche, and llapingachos was a quick check-in at the Aeromexico counter, pass security, board the plane, and tough out the 4h30 flight. First up, check-in. Line is kind of long, service seems to be quite slow. No problem though, as we had a safe 3 hour layover. We (finally) get to the counter, the person at the counter takes our passports, issues my girlfriend’s boarding pass, then as he is preparing to do the the same for me, he looks at my passport and utters, factually and emotionless: ‘Sir, you cannot board the flight. Your passport expires in 5 months; the government of Ecuador asks for a passport that expires at least 6 months after the date of travel’.
That can’t be true! Why is it called ‘expiration date’ if it isn’t really an expiration date ? No matter, what I thought was an urban legend was actually true. And I was in deeeeeep sh*t. I mean up to my nostrils in cow dung. Here we (my girlfriend decided to stay with me to get the issue resolved) were, Saturday around 11 PM, with a passport that needed to be renewed in time to take a flight that would get us to Quito in time for our 2 PM flight to the Galapagos Islands on Tuesday. First thing we do, we go to the special assistance counter to see how to go about modifying our reservation so we could take a later flight to Quito. The clerk told us there is only one flight per day to Quito, departing at about 1 AM; there were still places available, but a fee equivalent to about 150$ US would apply to make that change. So that means there were two flights (Sunday and Monday) remaining to get us to Quito on time.
But wait… Everything is closed on Sunday… Oooooohhh shhhh*t ! That meant there was only ONE flight remaining to get us to Quito on time. But, more importantly, that meant we would need to get my passport renewed in only one working day (9AM – 5PM) ! What are the odds of us pulling this off ?! So, after deliberating a few seconds, we decided to leave our flights ‘opened’ (the clerk said that meant we could call or come back later to rebook our flights to Quito) in case it was impossible to get my new passport on time for the Tuesday 1 AM flight. We confirmed with him that our luggage would stay with us here and that our return flights (to Montreal from Medellin two weeks later) would not be cancelled.
After a short and overpriced night at the DF airport hotel, we came back to collect our luggage. NOT THERE. Sh*t. After about 2 hours of trying to sort out what happened and where our luggage was, the Aeromexico crew finally figured that our luggage was in Quito. Just perfect… We’ll have to settle our problems with only one pair of smelly socks.
So our next task was getting my passport renewal application form ready, and taking my passport photos, since we knew we would have to be waiting at the door at 9 AM on Monday to have a chance to get my new passport by CoB. No problems here, we had all of that done by early afternoon. So a little bit of free time to roam around time, eat a few tacos, and rest up before a hectic day on Monday.
Monday morning, 8:30 AM. We are standing outside the embassy waiting for it to open. By 9, we were inside, where I handed over my application to the person behind the counter. She said : ‘OK, perfect. Your passport should be ready in about 3 days’. So I had to reply: ‘Well, here’s the thing… I would kinda sorta need by (muttering) end of day’. She looked at us, eyes wide opened in surprise, and said she would have to check if that’s even a possibility. So she went to the back to talk to another person, came back about 5 minutes later, and said ‘Listen. If your two references can answer the phone quickly, I think we can get your (albeit temporary) passport renewed by 4:30 PM. YESSSSSSSSS! She was able to reach my two contacts relatively easily, so we were in business! Now we could simply use our ‘opened’ tickets to get on the Tuesday 1 AM flight to Quito.
So next up, calling the Aeromexico ticket office to book our flights. Being overseas, we were limited to calling from the public phone that was available at the embassy in order to avoid excessive roaming charges. So after getting a hold of the Aeromexico ticket office, we learned, to our disgrace, that they had actually cancelled ALL my flights, even the ones coming back to Montreal! My heart sank. My girlfriend, who was handling the call in Spanish, started arguing with them, saying that this made no sense and that we had assured ourselves at the airport that our flights were not cancelled. Proof of that was that her return flights were fine; only mine had been cancelled. Ensued an intense, draining two hours of trying to get things resolved, but to no avail. The only solution they had for us was rebooking the flights at the very affordable rate of 4,300$ US (my return flight had originally cost me about 500$ US) ! After that, we figured that we weren’t going to get anything done over the phone. So we tried to find an Aeromexico ticket office near the embassy, thinking it would perhaps be easier in person. After walking about 30 minutes to get to an office of theirs, they informed us that they were unable to do any flight modifications (they were only an agent for the company, or something). Wait, what ?!
Now, almost noon, and nowhere near having our issue resolved, we decided that going to the airport would be our best bet. So we take a taxi, only to spend the next HOUR AND THIRTY MINUTES in the worst traffic I had ever seen to travel the 13km (8 miles) to the airport! Like, walking would almost have been more efficient! But anyways, at the airport, we went to the special assistance counter to explain our situation, and they immediately told us to go to another counter. Once over there, in a circular reference kind of way, they told us to return to the original counter. That’s where we kind of lost it; we just couldn’t deal with this sh*t anymore. We demanded that someone (someone!) take care of us. Thankfully, the person at the counter physically brought us to another (third!) counter, where we explained our situation. Unfortunately, they confirmed what we had heard on the phone, and that I would have to rebook my tickets (for the much better 3,300$ US price, though! :P). We immediately asked to speak to the manager. He ended up being even more useless than the others, saying there’s nothing he can do, and that we should send an email to Aeromexico customer service. LOL… Ya right, like that’s going to help!
We realized that time was really flying by… Almost 3 PM! If we were to encounter the same type of traffic getting back to the embassy, we’d be really tight in getting there on time. So we asked the person if my girlfriend could do the negotiating on my behalf while I go back to the embassy to get my passport. So I told my girlfriend to keep being insistent and try to get a reasonable price for my flights, and that if she did, to book it, as well as the flight to Quito. So I went back to the embassy. AGAIN, ridiculous traffic. The car is not moving, I need to pee, and people on foot are passing us on the road! I look at my phone: 4:30. On my phone’s GPS, I see that we are roughly 5km(3 miles) away from the embassy. The stress… What if my girlfriend books the flight and I can’t get my passport on time ? Then we’re even more screwed then before!
Tic, tac, tic, tac.
After briefly contemplating running the final few kilometers, the taxi started moving a bit and was able to drop me off at the embassy at 4:52, a big 8 minutes before close! Thankfully, the incredibly nice and helpful people at the embassy had finished my passport renewal process in record time. I had a passport, YESSSSS! I immediately called my girlfriend to see if she had been able to resolve the issue. Her answer was memorable: ‘Well, yes, but it’s you might not be thrilled about the cost… (1,900$)’. At that point, I was almost happy… I told myself: ‘Well, it seems I’ll be poor for awhile, but at least I didn’t totally f*ck up this entire trip!’.
So we did, against all odds, succeed in getting a passport renewed abroad in less than one day, and continue on our adventures in South America. As it turned out, Galapagos was the most memorable trip ever, quickly making me forget about all the stress and drama that occurred in Mexico City.
Now, looking back at all this, we laugh at all that happened. However, if this post can help one person avoid this situation, I’ll be happy.
Based on this experience / nightmare, I would of course advise anybody traveling to any country to have their passport valid for at least six months after your return date. However, FYI, here is a link to the list of countries who do have the 6-month validity rule (Mexico is ironically on the list).
So that is my embarrassing travel story. Do any of you guys have any travel horror stories ? Feel free to share!