Thank you, Malaysia Airlines (and ANA)!
We were sitting in a restaurant in Ubud, Bali. A friend of mine, in from Belgium, had just finished telling me the story of how his girlfriend had been denied boarding at the airport because her passport had less than 6 months remaining validity.
Like a lot of countries, Indonesia has a 6-month passport validity requirement. And the airlines take this seriously. They don’t want to be on the hook for a person who gets denied entry and has to be flown back whence they came.
I had to feel for her. She couldn’t get a new passport for 3 days, half of her vacation disappeared in the blink of an eye, and she had to buy a new ticket. The airlines won’t hesitate to tell you that it’s your fault for not knowing the entry requirements of the country you are visiting.
Say what you will about the 6-month requirement (and the inevitable “What’s the point of having a five-year passport if it’s only useful for four-and-a-half years?” lament), but the line does have to be drawn somewhere.
It’s a cautionary tale of international travel if there ever was one.
I left the dinner free of concerns about my own upcoming international trip, which was, ironically, to renew my passport (although the irony only became clear later). When I got home, I thought it a good idea to check-in to my AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur (I’d then fly Kuala Lumpur to Vancouver via Tokyo with ANA).
On the first page of the AirAsia online check-in process it asks you to enter your passport information. I did that, pressed the Next button, and then switched to a new tab while the page loaded. When I switched back, instead of seeing the next page, I saw a little red message. Something to the tune of:
Your passport has fewer than six months remaining. You can’t use online check-in. Please contact check-in staff at the airport.
Oh, crap. The computer was right. On the day of my flight, my passport would have five months and twenty days remaining.
At first, I was in disbelief. Surely they’d let me fly. I had proof of an onward flight from Kuala Lumpur 9 hours after the AirAsia flight landed.
Sadly, no. AirAsia’s policy is stated cleary: Less than 6 months, no boarding. They were just being polite when they asked you to “contact check-in staff at the airport.”
So I scoured the internets looking for people who found themselves in a similar situation. I came away with two conclusions.
- I’m an idiot
- No way AirAsia was going to let me board. Even if they did, Malaysia wouldn’t let me in because the country also has the 6-month requirement.
Things were starting to look bleak. It crossed my mind more than once that I might have to cancel my trip, forego both tickets, the works.
This was a Sunday night. My flight was scheduled for Friday. The chaos had only just begun.
I should probably state here that I secretly enjoy circumstances in which extrication requires creativity. There’s something about the thrill of the challenge, working out all the permutations and combinations that could potentially solve the problem.
It dawned on me at some point in the morning that what I needed to do was fly from Bali to KLIA (not KLIA 2), stay in transit, and have my bags checked all the way through to Tokyo (because I had to switch airports in Tokyo). So I started looking up interline agreements between airlines and the check-through policy of Star Alliance.
I reasoned that because All Nippon Airways (ANA) is a member of Star Alliance, my best chance was contacting another Star Alliance member that could get me to KLIA. Two such airlines fly out of Bali: Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines.
But my first stop was the Garuda Indonesia office. The airline isn’t Star Alliance, but it did fly to KLIA and seemed to have a pretty good check-through policy. As I later found out, though, because Garuda flies to KLIA via Jakarta (the Bali-Jakarta leg being domestic), there was no way they could check the bags through.
Thai Airways was next. I must say that the staff there were wonderful. They were genuinely interested in solving my problem, calling multiple people at different airports to find out if what I wanted was possible.
In the end, it could almost be done.
Could Thai Airways check my bags through to Tokyo? Yes.
Could they fly me to KLIA via Bangkok? Yes.
Great. There was just one problem. The layover in Bangkok was to be 12 hours and 15 minutes. According to Thai law, a transit time of longer than 12 hours requires the passenger to pass through Thai immigration, collect his/her bags, and check-in again 1–3 hours before the flight.
And guess what? Thailand has a 6-month remaining validity requirement.
The staff were very apologetic, saying that even though the flight could be delayed or that I could wait outside Thai immigration until the transit time was less than 12 hours, the computer wouldn’t allow them to check me in to the Bangkok-KLIA flight.
One woman thought that Malaysia Airlines could help me out, so she gave them a call. It took a while to explain my situation, but eventually the word came back that it wouldn’t be possible. Apparently there would be no way to get my boarding pass upon arrival at KLIA.
I left the Thai Airways office convinced that I wasn’t going anywhere. Except that I had to go somewhere. My Indonesian visa expired on the Friday. Trying to stay wouldn’t have led anywhere good.
At home, I started looking at countries in the vicinity with a Canadian embassy that I could fly to and stay in until I got a new passport. I even thought about flying directly to Tokyo (Japan has no minimum passport validity requirement) and then jumping on the second leg of my ANA flight. A quick glance at ANA’s policy regarding skipping legs told me that I would forego my entire flight if I missed one segment.
Singapore Airlines was next up. They have an office on the rarely seen second floor of the Bali airport. As with Thai Airways, the Singapore Airlines woman was really helpful. She took time to understand my situation before disappearing into the back office to consult with colleagues.
When she came out, she was apologetic. They could get my bags to Tokyo, but I wouldn’t be able to get my boarding pass for the ANA flight at KLIA. She also suggested Malaysia Airlines. I explained that they had already said no. She just shrugged and wished me luck.
At this point, I was sure my only option would be to book a new flight with an airline flying directly from Bali to Vancouver (Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, or Eva Air). You might be asking why I didn’t do that in the first place? I got a ridiculous deal on the ANA flight. Those flights were running at $1600. I wasn’t thrilled at that prospect.
When I got home, I found out that I could get a refund for most of my ANA ticket if necessary. That made the cost of a new flight a little more palatable. I also got an email from ANA saying that they would automatically email me my boarding passes 24 hours before the flight.
Light bulbs started going off after I finished reading the email. The boarding pass problem was no longer actually a problem. Malaysia Airlines should be able to get me to KLIA and my bags to Tokyo. Now I just had to hope that they’d agree to do it.
The day didn’t start well. I went to the Malaysia Airlines ticketing office and found the guy whom the lady from Thai Airways had called on Monday. I explained the ANA boarding pass situation, but he reiterated that it was still not possible. Or at least he wasn’t in a position to say what could and couldn’t be done. I had to go to the Operations office in the airport to get a final answer.
So off I went, only to find the office closed. My backup plan was Singapore Airlines, which was two doors down, but I figured I’d wait to see if the Malaysia Airlines office opened up. Thankfully, it did.
The guy I dealt with was already familiar with my situation. He was the one that had ultimately said it wasn’t possible. I figured I would explain the situation again, adding in the new information about the ANA boarding pass.
To my surprise, he didn’t reject my request out of hand. He checked my ANA reservation in his computer and saw that everything was in order. When he found out that I just wanted to transit in KLIA (not enter Malaysia), his answer was music to my ears:
Sure, we can do that.
All I had to do was book a Malaysia Airlines flight to KLIA and all would be taken care of. After two days of hearing no, yes felt like winning the lottery.
I rushed backed to the Malaysia Airlines ticketing office and asked to buy a ticket. The guy there was still skeptical, so he put in a call to the operations guy I had just talked to. Confirmation was given and a few minutes later I had a flight to KLIA.
Check-in went well. My bag was checked through to Tokyo and I had my boarding pass. Transit time in KLIA was about 8 hours, so I slept on a couch next to the TVs showing sporting events. I boarded the flight to Tokyo at 6:30 and was airborne by 7.
When I arrived at Tokyo Narita, I went straight to the baggage carousel only to find that my bag was not there. Ugh. First time that’s ever happened in 17 years of travelling. I wasn’t exactly surprised, but it would mean that I would be wearing the same thing for a few days.
I went over to the ANA baggage desk and explained my complicated situation. They checked the computer but couldn’t locate my bag. “Ask the baggage staff when you get to Vancouver,” they said.
Some 16 hours later, the ANA baggage desk in Vancouver also had no idea were my bag was. I filled in the necessary forms and they promised to be in touch.
I got an email from ANA saying that they still don’t know where my bag was, but they were looking hard for it.
It was then that I started to think that my bag might never arrive.
An email from ANA arrived just after lunch. Malaysia Airlines had confirmed that my bag was on its way to Vancouver and would arrive sometime in the evening. Great news!
My bag was delivered in the morning, none the worse for wear. What a relief. Things could’ve turned out so much worse.
I’m fully aware that Malaysia Airlines didn’t have to check my bags through to Tokyo. They also could’ve denied me boarding because of my passport validity. I’m grateful that they not only helped, but did so without complaint.
The baggage situation was regrettable, sure, but both Malaysia Airlines and ANA did a great job making sure my bag was found and arrived in one piece.
I learned that I need to pay way more attention to my passport expiry date, especially because I live abroad (where there aren’t any express passport services).
Anyway, thanks again, Malaysia Airlines and ANA for tolerating my idiocy. :)