This week I flew to Bordeaux on my husband’s passport. It was surprisingly easy.
I am a (bottle) blonde with blue eyes. His eyes are dark brown, and he sports the shaved head favoured by men of a certain age who would rather not comb-over. You would never confuse us. Plus, his passport photo was taken when he was a good four stone heavier than he is now.
I was travelling as a guest of Kedem Europe, who had invited me, as the JC’s Food Editor to visit some of the chateaux which produce kosher fine wines. I’d left the house feeling smug and on top of things. Work completed, mum-stuff done. I’d even written a check list — and ticked it all off. The passport was packed the night before my 5.30am taxi. I was more concerned about toiletries, as I was carrying only hand luggage.
I reached Gatwick in good time, ate a lazy breakfast and ambled to my flight. There was an issue with the plane and we were delayed an hour at the gate before being herded to a second gate and rushed onto the plane.
On the flight, I idly flicked through my passport as we were on our descent. When my husband’s mugshot appeared my stomach flipped — and not with joy.
I’m proud of how calm I remained, tapping the easyJet stewardess’s arm to explain the situation. She asked her boss, the cabin supervisor. He deferred to the plane’s captain.
The captain advised that I was fine to travel, as I had my driving licence with me. My mind raced — even if I got into France, how was I going to leave two days later?
By the time we disembarked, I was in a state of high anxiety and close to tears, despite the captain’s assurances that all would be well.
How had this happened? I flew out of Gatwick’s North Terminal, having checked in online. With no bag to check in, the passport stayed in my handbag as I went through security. The only time I even took it out was when I showed it with my boarding card to the easyJet staff member at the second departure gate. She cannot have even glanced at it. What about passport control? Where are our security forces in these times of potential threats?
I queued at Bordeaux immigration, desperately searching my phone for my passport number and hopefully clutching my driving licence. “C’est vous!” exclaimed the lady behind the glass, when I stepped up, clearly warned to expect a passport-less passenger. She examined the papers and called the police. They were stunned I’d left Britain without paperwork.
The police arrived, but as my French is, at best, pidgin, they led me halfway around the airport to their one English-speaking immigration officer — a young English man. They asked me a few questions, googled to check me out, then drove me to the airport police station. My hosts from Kedem, John Weiss and Menachem Israelievitch, waiting in arrivals, were by now, calling and texting.
At the gendarmerie, the police agreed to let me in, but warned I would not be able to leave France without a passport or a permit to depart from the British Consul.I called my mother — “Don’t worry, I flew here without my passport and I’m in a French police station. Please could you send my passport to me?” She took it as well as a Jewish mother can, agreeing to help immediately. Fate was not on my side as her key would not work in my front door.
Once outside the airport, I telephoned the local British consulate, which, it turns out, has extremely limited opening hours. I’d missed the window of opportunity that day, so pressed an emergency option to be patched through to London.
A kind man at the Foreign Office, also surprised that I’d made it out of Blighty on a dodgy document, told me if I did get the special permission to leave, it would cost me £100, plus I’d need a new passport. More cost.
Hearing I was there to visit winemakers he told me “The advice from the Foreign Office is to drink plenty of wine!” That part I could do — and it was extremely good wine too.
I considered attempting to use David’s passport again — bluffing that I was transsexual. Customs officers may have been too embarrassed to ask any more questions. Reason prevailed and I decided to wait for my husband to courier my passport to me first thing on Tuesday.
By the time the passport arrived on Wednesday, my flight home had gone. All flights were full for that day and the next, so my only choice was a Eurostar ticket — at the price of a long weekend in Brighton. My journey home would compete with Steve Martin’s epic trip on all forms of transport. Taxi to Bordeaux station; train to Paris; rush hour sardines on the Metro; Eurostar to St Pancras; Thameslink to my local station and finally, a taxi home. Readers, don’t try this at home.
If I travelled through one of our hub airports using someone else’s passport, what could someone less innocent do? I’ve no idea why my husband’s passport was in my desk drawer instead of mine. I do know that next time I travel I’ll check the picture before leaving home.