By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/17/2020
Topics/Keywords: #Travel #Passport Page Views: 1771
How I lost my passport two days before I had to travel to Europe and lived to tell about it.

Welcome to Passport Hell!


From what they tell me, if I’d lost my passport or it had been stolen while I was in Europe, it would have been a non-problem…I’d have had to pay a $25 fee upon my return. But, no, I had to have it stolen while I was teaching a class in New Hampshire the week before my first scheduled trip to Germany.

I didn’t realize it was missing until we were actually gathering up my things for the trip to the airport. Some clever thief had taken the passport and my tickets to Europe, but left my domestic tickets (which had been in front of the ticket pocket in my laptop carrying case) so that nothing appeared to be missing. Then the fun began.

Notifying Iceland Air was easy. They were sympathetic and made a note in the computer that my tickets and passport had been stolen, and not to allow anyone to try and use them. That kept anyone from flying to Europe on my tickets, but didn’t get me there. The planned flight left, on schedule, Saturday evening…without me on board.

There was nothing I could do the remainder of Saturday and Sunday but to try and notify the people who had scheduled the class I was supposed to teach…which didn’t work; everyone was out. I also only had work numbers for the contacts in Germany, and they weren’t in, either. So, I spent the time trying to track down leads to someone, anyone, who might be interested in the fact that my passport had been stolen.

Now in Great Neck, NY, I tried to call the Nashua, NH, police. They refused to take a report over the phone, even though I explained I was no longer in New Hampshire and wouldn't be able to give a report in person. They suggested I call the Great Neck police. However, they weren't interested, either, since the crime had not occurred in Great Neck. Neither police department had any other suggestions, and neither had the number of anyone who might know who I should call.

I even tried getting the number of the State Department, but they weren't open on weekends. Finally, late Sunday, I found the phone number for the New York City passport office. It gave me a voice menu that offered no options for emergencies or stolen passports, but did give me the opportunity to make an appointment…the following Tuesday, far too late for me to make my class. Nevertheless, just in case, I made the appointment.

I did find on the Web a link to a passport expediting company. There may be many of these, but this was the only one I found. This company provides all the forms you will need on line; you print them out, and then express mail them to the expediting company. For a $100 fee, the company walks your forms through the system and can possibly replace your passport in as little as three days. That still was too long for my needs, but being able to print the form and get the list of things I would need was nonetheless valuable.

The list read like one for a scavenger hunt. In addition to the filled-out request for a replacement passport and report of a stolen one, I had to have a ticket to Europe good for the day I was applying for the passport—an e-ticket wouldn't suffice; it had to be a real, paper ticket (even though mine was stolen). I also had to have my birth certificate (even though mine was at home, in Arizona).

Actually, the jury seemed divided on whether I needed the birth certificate. Some sources maintained that, as an alternative, I could bring someone who had known me for over two years. However, others said that rule applied for normal, three-week passports, not emergency right-now passports. As it turns out, I was born in Glen Ridge, NJ, not all that far from Great Neck. So, my friend, Celeste, was good enough to drive me out there Monday morning. The traffic was maddening and the trip seemed to take forever; but, we did get there and getting the birth certificate itself was cheap and painless.

Next, I needed a new plane ticket, dated for that day. My original, Iceland Air tickets had been reported stolen and I could have gotten them re-issued, except that Iceland Air's one flight a day was already booked solid for that evening. Besides, I no longer had time to fly by way of Iceland. Fortunately, my travel agent was able to get a terrific deal on a round-trip ticket on Lufthansa, only $290! Of course, that was with restrictions—it couldn't be changed without a substantial penalty—but another stop at Newark Airport to pick them up, and then it was into Manhattan to get the passport.

—Except, the woman at the downstairs counter, speaking to me from behind two inches of bullet-proof glass, would not let me in. "I will not put you ahead of the line everyone else has been waiting in," she scowled. I had watched her be rude to everyone in line ahead of me, so I wasn't too surprised. Actually, I had been puzzled that no cameras were allowed in the passport office. Now I understood: They don't want pictures of the people working there, to protect them when they are off-duty and no longer hiding behind bullet-proof glass!

Now I was glad I had made the Tuesday appointment. Of course, by now, it seemed likely that my clients in Germany would postpone or even cancel the class; and, indeed, my office was busily trying to negotiate with them—but had to wait until the next day, since daytime in New York is nighttime in Germany.

Of course, my plane ticket for Monday night was now no good. We drove back to the airport where I made the poor Lufthansa lady listen to the whole story. Fortunately, she believed me, and modified the ticket for Tuesday night at no additional charge.

Tuesday I showed up at 11:15 am, fifteen minutes before the appointed time. (The taped instructions specified that I should not arrive sooner than that. While waiting to pass through the metal detector at the front door, I noted a plaque stating that the passport office now accepted VISA cards. That was a relief, since I didn't have much cash on me.

Upstairs, I found myself taking a number from a machine. The number was about a hundred higher than the one the TV monitor indicated was being served, but they seemed to move quickly and my ticket, printed by computer, offered an estimate of 45 minutes before I would be served.

Alas, it turned out that being "served" merely meant having my appointment verified and being sent into another, larger, room, where I had to take another ticket! And here I sat for three hours until I was finally called.

Meanwhile, Celeste, who thought I might be there as long as an hour, is sitting in the car out on the street.

While waiting, I fortunately overheard several people arguing with the passport people at the windows. It seems that, in spite of the sign downstairs, the passport office does not accept VISA or any other credit card! They also do not accept checks. So, I took advantage of the slow-moving line to dash downstairs and outside to a bank, where I could get a cash advance on the VISA card so I could get my passport.

Back upstairs, I finally got myself heard and I figured, I've got it now! But, no, I didn't. Now I had to go to another room and wait for the passport to be printed! All this time, I am looking nervously the clock. I would never have guessed it would take this long; it was starting to look as if I would miss this evening's flight, too! At the last possible moment they called out my name; I snatched the passport and ran for the exit.

Celeste drove as fast as she could through the Holland Tunnel. We both thought I would make it—but, was the class cancelled? I still didn't know. I called the office from the airport and found it had been postponed until the following month.

Now, the question was, what should I do? I no longer had to fly to Europe—but I had a ticket to do so, a ticket that I couldn't change. I also had no tickets back to Arizona; I would have to stay in New York somewhere if I didn't go to Europe. Celeste was willing to have me stay with her; but somehow it all seemed so line the Universe wanted me to go: I, who had never been to Europe, had unexpectedly been handed what amounted to free tickets there. I, who normally plans my vacations pretty well, had no idea where I would go or what I would do if I got there.

It also turned out that I had missed my flight. However, the Lufthansa lady was, again, helpful. "That was the last flight to Munich," she said. "But we can fly you this evening to Frankfurt, and you can catch a shuttle from there to Munich in the morning."

I shrugged. Munich, Frankfurt…so what? I knew nothing about either one and it didn't seem to matter. If I was going to make this a Celestine-type experience, in which I let the energy flows of the Universe guide me along my way, I would go wherever.

I had one more passport scare. When I gave it to the ticket lady at check-in, along with my ticket, the woman took one look and said, "Well, this isn't valid." My heart stopped. After all I had been through, had the passport office screwed up? "You haven't signed it."

I signed the little passport book, and the woman accepted it. "Don't worry about it," she said. "It happens all the time."

And then, finally, after what seemed like forever in Passport Hell, I was, finally, on my way to Europe.

If your passport is stolen in the United States just before you need it, here's what you need to do:

  1. Call the passport office of the nearest major city and make an appointment. They won't say anything about an emergency because that's why people make these appointments; otherwise, they would get their passports by mail.

  2. Have your tickets. If they've been stolen, too, get them reissued. You will need paper tickets or a printed itinerary on your travel agency's stationery.

  3. Get your birth certificate. A baptismal certificate is also acceptable.

  4. Fill out a standard passport application (DSP-11) and the Stolen Passport form (DSP-64). Find these forms at the Printable Passport Forms site, where you can also download the Acrobat Forms Reader (if you don't already have it) so you can print them.

  5. Plan on spending a day at the passport office (bring a book or something you are working on, like embroidery or an opera). Don't expect to be able to leave until a couple hours aftertheir announced closing time.