Stuck in Guangzhou Airport without our passports

posted by Russ, January 23 in thailand, travel with tags , , ,


Entry #1 from Thailand trip (see entries #2,#3, #4, #5 and #6)

First view of China from the sky

First view of China from the sky

We were sitting there in Guangzhou Airport without our passports. It wasn’t exactly how we wanted our trip to Thailand to start. Up until a few hours ago, things were fine. There were no problems boarding the plane in Los Angeles, and the flight to Guangzhou went off without a problem. We knew we’d be in the Guangzhou airport for 7 hours before our next flight, and though typically there is no red tape to navigate nor Visa concerns as long as you plan to stay in the terminal, from my research it looked China had some extra tight restrictions for American citizens arriving there, so I put in a call to the embassy prior to leaving to be certain that we would be fine. (Just trying to contact someone at the consulate was no trivial task!) As expected, we were told that as long as our stay was less than 24 hours and we stayed in airport terminal, we’d be fine.

When we had checked in with China Southern Airline in Los Angeles, the agent was unable to check us through to Bangkok, presumably because the second leg of our flight was with Thai Airways. This raised a red flag in my mind, but she assured us that it would be no problem. We were told that we would simply need to claim our bags and go to the transfer desk to check in for our next flight. So after getting off the plane in China, I was a bit surprised to see that after a short walk we arrived at China’s immigration and customs, and I could see the baggage claim on the other side behind them. Right away we told the immigration officer that this was not our final destination, so he asked to see our ongoing tickets. We tried to lay it out as simply as possible, saying we didn’t have any because they were not able to be issued in LA, but that we had no intention of leaving the airport. All we wanted to do was claim our bag as we were told to do, and check in for our next flight. We were let through and told to “wait over there”, while our passports were handed off to someone else who promptly disappeared. A little group of passengers started to form near us, all of whom seemed to be having a similar problem. Eventually things became quite chaotic, but eventually someone came over and found us by holding the passports up in the air and then scanning for the faces which matched the passport photos. Our passports were returned to us and several others, along with what looked like boarding passes. We were then ushered through to a secondary security check.

At the gate - Flight status

At the gate, ready to go

Turns out that it was only a temporary boarding pass, and the passports only stayed in our hands for a few minutes. After we were brought through more security, and assured that our bags would be handled and routed to our final destinations, we were shown back into the terminal. But our passports and passes were promptly taken away from us again, and we were brought to a room in the lower level and furthest corner of the airport, and simply told to wait, have some lunch, and that our passports with new boarding passes would be brought to us “soon.”

Well, to make a long story short, there were about 8 of us in total from all the incoming flights that morning who were inexplicably placed in this situation, and after 5 or 6 hours of waiting sans passports, we were located and our passports and boarding passes were handed over to us. There were no explanations, and I still don’t know what the reasons were. Though it was certainly a strange 5 hours in the airport with no passport, and it turned out to be ok in the end. Because this happened to so few of us, all I can think is that 1) because we didn’t have our ongoing boarding passes and didn’t have Chinese Visas, they wanted to make sure we stuck around, 2) it was some confusion because we all had multi carrier flights and they were trying to do us a favor but procuring the boarding passes for us, and due to our early (6AM) arrival or extended layover, there was some logistical reason we couldn’t get our boarding passes ourselves or 3) it was simply some matter of inexplicable Chinese confusion. It was also quite possibly a combination of the three, though personally, my guess is that it was theory #1.

So eventually we boarded our Thai Airways flight, and though only three hours, it was one of the most pleasant flights I’ve ever been on. Comfortable plane, friendly staff, and good food and free booze! Arrival in Bangkok went smoothly, and after clearing immigration we made an ATM stop then went straight out to the official taxi stand and were soon zipping along to our hotel in the Banglamphu district, near Khao San Road. The taxi ride took maybe 45 minutes, and cost about 400 Baht. (This included a 50 Bath taxi fee for leaving the airport, 70 Baht for tolls on the tollway, and tip.)

See article and more photos here

Next up, our first night and day in Thailand

Originally posted on Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 at 12:37 PM .

5 Responses to “Stuck in Guangzhou Airport without our passports”

  1. […] Stuck in Guangzhou Airport without our passports […]

  2. […] #4 from Thailand Trip (see entries #1, #2, […]

  3. […] #5 from Thailand Trip (see entries #1, #2, #3, […]

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