For the end of May bank holiday weekend, I had planned a long weekend break in Singapore. Qatar Airways has a sale on meaning flights from Europe to the Far East could be had in the region of £1000-£1500. I’d been wanting to head back to the area for a while and as an added bonus the flights between Doha and Singapore were due to be operated by the airlines much hyped Qsuite product. To get me from London where I live to/from Oslo where the Qatar flights departed, was a couple of BA flights in their Club Europe cabin. Of added interest for me was that the return was to be operated by one of the airlines newer A320neo aircraft. The trip would have bagged me 640 BA tier points which is a good start on the way to renewing BA Gold status just a month or so into my new year. Once in Singapore, I’d be staying at the intercontinental, who are fast becoming one of my favourite brands.
The final itinerary looked something like this:
My main concern was that something would go wrong with the first flight to Oslo and I’d end up missing the whole trip. The final flight wasn’t so much of a concern as it would have been far easier to replace the final OSL-LHR sector. My (minor) fears weren’t realised however and I was able to spend a couple of hours in the city, just as I had planned.
I made my way back to Oslo Airport, visited the check in desks, handed over my passport and was given a pair of boarding passes through to Singapore. A couple of hours later, I was relaxing in seat 2A onboard A350, A7-ALR, headed for Doha. A trip report will be online for that flight soon (or already online depending on when you read this).
Arrival in Doha was more or less on schedule and it was then time to wait the seven or so hours for the next flight, onwards to Singapore. Upon making my way down to the lounge complex at Hamad Airport, I remembered reading online that it was possible to pay for entry into the AlSafwa First lounge if you’re in Business Class with QR. There’s no official mention of this anywhere however, but I figured if I went and asked, the worst that could happen was that I would be told no and I’d be directed towards the AlMourjan Business lounge instead. Luck was on my side however and £50 later I was being escorted to one of the relaxation rooms – which are basically hotel rooms.
The following morning, it was down to the next gate for my flight to Singapore. I was pleased to see that QR hadn’t subbed anything this time (a few of you may remember they last time I flew QR, I ended up on one of their awful A330’s after a last minute sub) and I’d be trying out their Qsuites for the first time. As an added bonus, I’d managed to score myself a OneWorld logo jet too.
For much of the flight, I slept until around a couple of hours before arrival when I woke up with bad stomach cramps and an awful taste in my mouth. It’s something I suffer with somewhat frequently and I generally know that I’ll be in for a rough few hours more or less every time. Sure enough, not too long before landing, my breakfast made a reappearance. Apologies for the details. By this point, feeling quite rough, tired and just wanting to get to my hotel after a good 30 or so hours on the road, landing into Singapore couldn’t come soon enough. We touched down pretty much on schedule and towards the end of the landing run, the flight deck slammed the brakes on pretty hard. A couple of bottles of water the cabin crew had given me went flying, along with everything else that wasn’t tied down. The downside of being in a rear facing seat is that there’s nothing much to stop any flying objects. The bottles of water and a hot towel I was given made it as far as the forward galley, confirmed by the slight giggles I could hear from the cabin crew sat there. I also noticed that my passport had left its previous position of being sat on the side too. I had the Singapore landing card slotted into it, which was now by my feet. I couldn’t see my passport however, but I figured it wouldn’t be too far away. It had probably just travelled a little further and was under the seat. I’d be able to look properly when we were on stand and the seat belt sign had gone off. When we pulled up, I reached around under my seat, but couldn’t find anything. One of the cabin crew came along and asked how I was feeling now, to which I replied something along the lines of “well, a little better, but now my passport is in my seat somewhere”. She said not to worry, and set about adjusting the seat to look for it.
A few moments later, she said she couldn’t see it, but not to worry as they will call in an engineer to dismantle the seat and he will find it. Ugh, I just wanted to get to my hotel for a shower and bed. Sure enough, the engineer came along and set about taking the seat apart, but without any more luck than the cabin crew.
By this point, I couldn’t help but notice that the only people that were still on board were the cleaners, the senior cabin crew member, the dispatcher, a couple of engineers and the captain. The captain asked what happened, so I explained the situation and jokingly said that it was his fault for hitting the brakes so hard on landing. My British sense of humour was obviously lost on this Qatari (?) however, as he snapped back “We had to brake hard, we were told there was another plane landing close behind us, I will not compromise on safety for any reason”. Tough crowd. He followed up with insisting I unpacked my bag in front of him. I said it was in the overhead locker throughout, so it’s highly unlikely my passport would be in there… but even for my own peace of mind I obliged anyway. Once he was satisfied I didn’t have it, he joined in the search.
By this point, we had been on stand for around 30 minutes and the dispatcher was a little anxious about getting the return flight to Doha out on time. This particular plane has an extremely short turn around in Singapore. Just an hour and ten minutes from the incoming flights scheduled arrival time, to the plane having to push back and return to Doha. I was told to leave the aircraft and wait at the end of the jetbridge. Fine with me, I was more than happy to get off this plane by now after my experience of the last couple of hours. I sat and waited, the rest of the crew waiting for their remaining three colleagues curious to know if I’d had any luck in finding the missing passport. I remained positive though. It surely can’t just vanish, it was on that plane 45 minutes ago, so it must still be there and in that general seat area. It’ll be found. Not too long later, I saw someone hand a passport sized envelope to one of the ground staff. Finally, I can be on my way! My joy was short lived though. The Singapore station manager approached me and said it couldn’t be found. The remaining option was for me to be escorted to the immigration hall and hope that I’d be granted entry to Singapore without a passport. I still remained positive: I had a confirmed hotel booking, a confirmed ticket to leave Singapore and even a photocopy of my passport. It was a genuine incident, so surely the officials would be a little more lenient, right?
Wrong. After what seemed like just a few minutes, the Qatar Airlines station manager approached me and said they weren’t going to grant me entry. Oh. So what now? The choices were either head straight back on the same plane I had just got off, or spend the night in the airport and hope that a more thorough search of the seat area one the plane had returned to Doha would prove more successful. Not willing to throw in the towel on this trip so soon, I chose the second option. I was reminded by a member of DNATA staff that there was a transit hotel at Changi I could make use of, so we all headed up there. I booked myself sixteen hours at a ridiculously expensive rate and luckily the Qatar Airways station manager said they would cover the cost. Damn, should have asked for eighteen hours instead! The first Qatar Airlines arrival into Singapore that would have my passport on board would be due to arrive at 16:00. Figuring I’d likely sleep until 9am anyway, my meticulously created plans would have to be somewhat re-arranged in my head, but realistically I’d only lost a few hours. Because my passport would turn up. It simply had to. It couldn’t possibly vanish into thin air.
After a difficult night (remember the stomach condition I mentioned earlier? Yes, that) I was awoken by my phone ringing. It was a Singapore number, so it would be good news. Again, wrong. It was the station manager informing me that upon the return to Doha, the local engineers had torn down the seat and found nothing. What the???? Again, I was given the option to leave Singapore on one of the evening departures, but I was still not ready to give up. There must be some way I could salvage something. I googled the local British embassy in Singapore. They opened on Monday at 8:30am. It was Saturday morning. That was no good. How about the British Consulate in the UK? Useless. Their answer was to let the airline sort it out, as it’s “not in their best interests to leave you stranded”. Thanks. The third and final option was to get an emergency passport. This was also a no go, as not only would it cost £100, it would also take two days to issue and require me to visit the embassy in Singapore. Which I was unable to do. I was out of options. I had to pull the plug. First port of call was to contact the Intercontinental in Singapore. They were great. Very sympathetic and despite it being well past the cut off for cancelling, they waived any fees. I will be sure to book with them on my next visit to Singapore. Next up was British Airways to cancel my return flight from Oslo. Oh dear. Despite their great leader Willie Walsh constantly claiming that the UK charges a ridiculous amount in taxes/APD and they need to be slashed or the world will end, the only money I got back from cancelling that flight was a meagre £29. Seems as though they can pick and choose how much “taxes” are paid to suit their needs. Oh, and I’ll have to wait 4-6 weeks to receive that whopping £29.
The final call was made to Qatar Airways. I had to very reluctantly admit defeat and tell them that I did indeed wish to leave Singapore that evening. Although things weren’t that simple. First off, as I had started in Oslo, I had to convince them that being a British citizen it would be FAR less hassle involved for all if I was sent back to London on one of their many flights there from Doha. Or at the very least, the UK. Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh…. Wherever. They agreed to send me back to London without too much persuasion. The second obstacle was the British authorities. Obviously I couldn’t just pitch up on the doorstep of the UK one Sunday morning with no documentation and simply say “Can I come in please?”. The airline would have to get permission from them before they could issue me a ticket. The third obstacle was the Qatar authorities, or at least that’s what I was told. Not officially entering the country, I’m not sure why they would have an issue with me simply passing through, but I guess the airline knows more about that than I do. The final obstacle was Singapore letting me out – although as the station manager in Singapore said to me, that won’t be an issue as I was never let in to begin with. Luckily, Qatar Airways dealt with all of this – because personally I wouldn’t have a clue where to start with trying to explain the situation to the authorities in Qatar. All that was left for me was to bide my time and await the phonecall to say everything had gone through. I think many people would have spent the entire time stressing out wondering if they would be allowed to leave and what would happen if just one of the steps had failed. In fact, I’m pretty sure if someone had said to me what would I do in this situation, my answer would have been probably been along the lines of “have a breakdown or something”. But surprisingly I didn’t feel any stress whatsoever. I guess because the airline was sorting it all out, I was able to benefit from complete ignorance to the whole process and simply assume I’d be going home later.
As many pointed out via social media and private massages, if I was going to be stranded airside at any airport, Singapore Changi was the one place to do so. Sure, being stuck in an airport isn’t at all what I would have wanted for this trip, but rather than wallow in a dark hotel room, I decided to check out at 1:30pm and have a good explore of what Changi had to offer. First stop was the hotel lounge, for a bite to eat – again, provided by the airline. All the while watching the planes taxi past.
And all with more than a shred of disappointment and thoughts of “I should be in Sentosa now”. As the airport swimming pool was part of the hotel complex, that was the next port of call.
Swimming pools aren’t really my thing however, so I only stopped for a couple of minutes.
What did strike me on my brief venture into the outside world was the distinct lack of the humidity that Singapore is so famous for. It was actually quite pleasant out. I carried on my walk through Terminal 1, and the next attraction I stumbled across was the discovery garden. I wasn’t all that inspired. The next few hours were spent wandering around seeing what other attractions that took my fancy.
And of course, spending time watching the various movements outside.
At around 16:30, my phone rang once more. This time however, it was good(ish) news. The first good news I’d received in a good 24 hours. Everything had been processed and I was on my way back to London. All that was left to do was to meet the station manager at the transit desk at 19:00. With this in mind, and knowing I wouldn’t have to shell out for a ticket back home, I felt a bit of retail therapy was in order.
The first thing that caught my eye was a Samsonite backpack. With all the amenity kits, pj’s etc. that I’d picked up over the last 24 hours, my carry on suitcase was a little stuffed.
Next up was a pair of new headphones. On the flight between Oslo and Doha, I noticed my trusty Bose QC25’s were starting to sound a little off in one side. As they have quite a few miles on the clock by now, I figured I’d replace them. One set that gets rave reviews are the Sony WH-M1000M3. I would have gone for the Bose QC35’s normally, however I figured as the Sony’s got better reviews and cost the same, I’d go for something different. I unwrapped my new toys in the Cactus garden, just as a Qantas A380 landed.
At 19:00, as agreed, I made my way to the Qatar Airways transit desk. Without too much fuss, a pair of boarding passes all the way to London were handed to me.
Now I had these, I could explore the lounges. Every time I had passed through Singapore on a OneWorld flight previously, both the British Airways and Qantas lounges had been closed. It would have been the same if I had taken my originally intended departure so I guess a small silver lining here was that now I could take a look at them both. Although with the somewhat last minute nature of acquiring my boarding passes both visits were a little brief.
I figured it would probably be a good idea to get to the gate a lot earlier than needed, just in case of any potential issues. Luckily the gate security were well prepared for my arrival and it was just like boarding any other flight really. Whilst sat at the gate I couldn’t help but feel great disappointment. The trip that I had been looking forward to for quite a while had gone horribly wrong. I had been in Singapore for just twenty five hours and hadn’t even left the airport. With the exception of the swimming pool and the cactus garden, I hadn’t experienced the outside world. Once onboard, the purser knew my situation and was extremely sympathetic and apologetic. A great gesture on his part, although its neither his nor the airlines fault. Just one of those unfortunate things. As an ironic twist of fate, my flight was operated by the exact same aircraft that my passport had vanished on just over 24 hours previously.
Upon arrival in Doha, as promised in Singapore, a member of the airline was waiting at the end of the jet bridge with my name on an A4 piece of paper. Again, he knew my situation and said I was lucky they let me stay in Singapore for as long as I did. If it was Qatar, the authorities would have made arrangements for me to be deported far sooner. Once we reached the transit security, my chaperone bid me farewell and disappeared.
Hmmm, this was a little concerning but as every member of Qatar Airways staff I had come into contact with so far had known about me and was expecting me so I had no reason to be concerned by this. I had around twenty minutes until boarding, and I did consider paying a quick visit to the AlMourjan lounge… but decided to be sensible and again head to the gate with more than enough time to spare just to be on the safe side.
And it was a good thing I did, as when I reached the gate I was (rightly) asked for my passport.
“Hi, I don’t have my passport, you should have been informed of this?”
“How do you expect to fly with no passport? How did you even get this far?”
“My passport was lost on board a Qatar Airways plane in Singapore. I’ve spent 25 hours there and now I am being sent back to London. It has all been arranged by Qatar Airways, the airline knows about this. Please go and speak to your colleagues”
“No passport, no fly. Next”
It was at this point I started to lose my temper for the first time for the whole situation. Yes, she was following her procedures but surely a little common sense or flexibility to even go and check wouldn’t have been so much of an issue? Luckily, a second member of ground staff was present, overheard the conversation and went to the desk to check. Luckily he reappeared a few moments later, told the first agent that my story checks out and to let me into the gate area. The final hurdle was now complete. I was free to board the flight back to London and as a further stroke of luck the scheduled A380 had been substituted for a Boeing 777-300ER that was just a few months old and was therefore fitted with the Qsuites. My original itinerary had only included two Qsuites flights, so I ended up with a bonus one thrown in. As an extra stroke of luck, the one and only spare seat on the whole plane (according to the purser in her welcome to me) was next to me. I therefore lowered the partition and enjoyed a double bed on a plane for the first time.
Shortly before arrival into London, the purser came and asked how the flight was. I told her the tale of my last 48 hours and that I was glad and disappointed to be home at the same time. She asked the flight deck to radio ahead to confirm I’d be met on arrival and for me to stay on board until they could come and meet me. Sure enough after the rest of the cabin had disembarked, a London based Qatar Airways staff member came on board, curious to know what had been going on. Like me, he was utterly amazed at how my passport had completely vanished. We reached the UK Border and I was unsure what to expect. Would I be taken off behind the scenes and interrogated? Would I be here for hours? Would it be like a scene from BBC’s The Airport? Well, it was none of the above. The airline staff member explained the situation to the officer, who phoned a colleague to take what little documentation I did have – my driving licence and a photocopy of my passport. Around five minutes later he returned, handed everything back with a “you’re good to go mate” and I was officially landed into a country – any country – for the first time in 65 hours since leaving Norway. Now all that was left was to make my way from T4 to T5 where my car was parked. Piece of cake compared to the rest of the weekends events!
So what exactly did happen to my passport? Well, who knows. I very much doubt I will ever find out either. As I’ve mentioned a few times in this article I’m absolutely baffled as to how it can seemingly vanish completely. The various authorities from the local police, to my insurance and even the airline staff are equally amazed when I tell them the story. I have my suspicions that one of the staff who were initially looking for it under the seat may have pocketed it, but are airport workers really that untrustworthy? I doubt it. But on the other hand how many crevices are there on an airline seat that can completely swallow a passport? I know for sure the engineers in Singapore had a very good look for it – as I saw them with my own eyes. But what I can’t be sure of is how thoroughly – if at all – the team in Doha looked for it. Personally I’d like to think it’s still on board somewhere, flying around the world. And that some day in a few years when the plane goes in for heavy maintenance it’ll be discovered, covered in years worth of dust. It’s since been cancelled and a new one has been applied for. Still has a lot of sentimental value to me though as I’ve had that passport more or less since I started travelling on a regular basis. It has an awful lot of stamps in there that I will never get back – not because I wont visit that country again, but purely for the fact those particular countries no longer stamp passports.
I’m sure those of you who follow me on social media will get all the latest updates as time progresses.
Track my passport here: https://www.flightradar24.com/data/aircraft/a7-ane