With all the talk of passport security, in light of the missing Malaysian Flight 370, my old college roommate, Carolyn, and I were discussing the strange disappearance of my U.S. passport in 2005, ten minutes before touchdown at JFK airport. During the seven and a half hour flight from Paris, I was sandwiched in a middle aisle, between Carolyn and a lady who described herself as an heiress to a famous bagel company in Connecticut. I filled out the customs card information, and while both customs card and passport were on my lap, I dozed off briefly before touchdown. When my friend nudged me that passengers were getting off the plane, I noticed that my passport was not with my customs card. Carolyn and I immediately searched the floor, through our handbags and in the front and back of our seats. After all 200 plus passengers had disembarked, we were joined in the hunt by the flight attendants, the pilot and the co-pilot for the missing passport, but without any luck. I heard the pilot grumble that this incident was the first time on his watch that a passenger boarded an international flight with a passport and departed without one. I admit to having a bit of a meltdown during the search, because I was afraid I would be sent back to where I had departed from, Paris, and I had to go back to work the next day. The pilot assured me that I wouldn't be deported and instructed me and my friend to follow him past the long line of passengers awaiting customs.
We were waived right through security to the information security department where I told them about the missing passport circumstances, and was told to show the ID I had on me, a NY driver's license, and was escorted out. My friend and I marveled at the ease of getting to our awaiting luggage on the carousel; we felt like rock stars! There was never any communication follow-up from the airline or the JFK security office. I had to go to Manhattan passport agency downtown to replace it, but I have always wondered about its whereabouts. Could it be in the hands of the down-on-her-luck bagel heiress who could possibly sell for as much as $20,000 on the black market, or had it landed in the hands of someone cleaning up garbage in the plane's cabin? My worst fear is that someone used my passport for a sinister act, as has been done with other victims' passports.
Another person discussing passport security this month is New York Senator, Chuck Schumer. Because Seyed Mohammad Reza Delavar and Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, two Iranian passengers had boarded Malaysian Flight 370 with stolen passports, NY Senator Chuck Schumer
has introduced new legislation, the Transnational Regulation of Identity of Passports(TRiP act) which gives countries five years to create screening systems on international flights before they are blocked from entering the Visa Waiver Program. Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, founded on February 7, 1923, and comprised of 190 member countries, has a stolen passport database, and according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, only has five countries who regularly use it: United States, UAE, Switzerland, France and Great Britain.
The "travel.state.gov" website states that VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, when they meet all requirements explained below on their site. The site also mentions that Chile is joining the Visa Waiver Program on March 31. There are 37 countries currently in the Visa Waiver Program, but Senator
Schumer's hope for the new trip bill is that it pressures more countries to use the Interpol database to ensure the safety of international passengers.
In hindsight, there were plenty of ways to keep my passport from being stolen, like putting it back in its proper place in my handbag or making copies of its pages for identification purposes, but I was naive and severely jet lagged, to believe my password would be safe on an international airplane flight. If your passport becomes lost or stolen, anywhere, you should access the U.S Passports and International Travel Department of State. According to the site, "If your passport has been lost or stolen, it should be reported immediately to help protect yourself against identity theft and to prevent someone else from using the passport."
Dear Interpol, please ensure ALL countries use the Stolen Passport Database as soon as possible, and if you happen to come across my U.S. passport, please contact me and help me and my friend solve a nine year old mystery in the process. Thank You.