Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Another Check-In Encounter @ Changi Airport
This is another encounter when I was with KLM in the late 80s. I was supervising at the check-in counter which was handled by our ground handling agent, CIAS. It was another of our usual evening departure to Europe via Amsterdam. I noticed a check-in staff was taking longer than usual to check on a passport, she was flipping from page to page. I then walked over to see if I can be of any help. At the check-in counter, the staff must ensure validity of our passenger's passport must be more than six months to expiry and depending on his final destination, we have to check for the visa too. In those days, we have to refer to our hard manual if we are not sure if some nationals need visa for the country they are visiting. Human error is inevitable. Failure to check all these will sometimes land the airline into trouble with the authority concerned. It is therefore safe to say that some authorities will simply push the problem back to the airline, sometimes even fined the airline for its lapses. During my 5 years with KLM, I witnessed just too many times. The airline usually ended up with the shorter end of the pole, whereas the people with the stamp of authority are always 'deemed to be right' - rather unfortunate to say.
The passport belonged to this Caucasian male passenger. The check-in staff was looking for the passport expiry but just couldn't find it anywhere. I then took over, hoping to find the expiry too. We flipped from front to back, back to front and to no avail. Everything was printed in French. Normally, even French passport will have some English words especially on the validity column but this particular one was extraordinary, not a word in English for our comprehension. Finally, the passenger got agitated. He asked what were we checking for and I replied we needed to know his passport expiry date. He shot back saying, "Didn't you guys go to school?", assuming we should know French language from onset. I did not pause a second to give him back. I said, "Sir, we don't go to school to learn French, we study English and if we cannot be sure about your passport expiry, we will not be able to process your boarding pass." Reluctantly, he flipped on the page which showed the passport expiry in French and he had to translate for us too. Satisfied, we then proceeded with the check-in. Thank you for flying with KLM.