Drama at Changi Airport

Those of you following me on Twitter/Facebook had probably saw my update when I said I was being refused boarding because of my passport's renewal date.

I didn't blog about the incident after touching down in the US because I was too tired, still pissed and didn't want to write about this when I was still angry.

Here's what happened.

Last Sunday, Oct 24th, I was departing from Singapore Changi Airport on the SQ12 for LAX.

While in queue for security check I was stopped by a police/security officer after he checked my passport and boarding pass. He insisted that because my passport was renewed in July 2009, it was mandatory for it to be biometric in order for me to visit the US on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

According to the official US VWP website:

* Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended on or after 10/26/06: passports must have integrated chips with information from the data page.
* Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06: passports must have digital photographs printed on the data page or integrated chips with information from the data page.
* Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended before 10/26/05: no further requirements.

My Machine-readable Passport (MRP) was issued in Sep 2003 and renewed after Oct 2006. Maybe the phrasing in the text is a bit confusing, but if someone were trained for these passport checking, he should damn well know that my passport fits under "issued before 10/25/05" and that no further requirements were necessary.

Alas, I wasn't aware of the exact dates and terms until I looked them up during my transit in Narita. 

Before this trip I had travelled to the US four times in the past year, three times from Singapore and once from London. Not ONCE was I stopped or even told that my passport had issues. When the security staff got my passport he went on haughtily about how I was wrong about the fact that my MRP was acceptable and in actual fact I must have a biometric passport. (Where/who could I check with at that point of time, anyway?)

So he dragged me to the boarding counter where the ground staff were, and repeated his dates and my folly, to a counter of staff who knew no better.

One of the girls attempted to reach the US customs but in vain. Shortly after that she told me they were going to take me off the flight, I heard my luggage being asked to be put on stand-by.

You cannot imagine my shock then, never in my years of travelling was I so traumatized (at such a crucial time too, the flight was due to take off pretty much then).

I couldn't help and started crying. The security guy looked away gleefully.

Eventually someone (probably senior?) on the line with the ground staff seemed to have convinced them to let me go, but they reiterated over and over how I was responsible for myself and my airfares if I was turned away at US customs and deported back to Singapore. And that they were going to ALERT the US customs that I was aware that I was committing an "offence" but still going.

I mean, seriously, IF I were wrong and yet maybe I could have had a chance at landing, why did they have to completely blow it by being unreasonable, putting me in a bind that I could do nothing about, when clearly I had no problems the previous times, where was my warning because all previous times had told me I was right? What was the point aside from making me miserable?

And all these time they were doing everything still without ACTUALLY knowing whether my passport was legible or not. Wtf?

In the end I was let on the plane, still crying and angry and scared that I was going to be deported back to Singapore. But after calming down, the more I thought about it the more it felt wrong. I definitely remembered reading that my passport was fine being MRP when I was making my first trip to the US.

During my transit in Narita, I managed to get online to check the VWP website. It was only then did I finally have a peace of mind.

I boarded the flight again from Narita, going through the security and passport check again without any problems; I landed in LAX and passed through immigration smoothly too—my passport was fine.

I still can't believe how horrendous the security guy's attitude was.

I was clearly a frequent traveller and harmless, and yet through the whole time he was being nothing but god damned happy about my misery. Least he could have done was to be human and try to be helpful or understanding or comforting or something right? Really didn't help that the rest of the ground staff were such a far stretch from being competent.

What IF there was an emergency in my family (choyx10000 touch wood) and I was taken off the flight just because someone THOUGHT he caught somebody committing an offence and can finally rake some extra credits for being sharp, WHO is to take the responsibilities here? I can't imagine the pain I could have been in. For all you know I could have killed myself out of guilt for not being there.

I really do wish I'd taken down their names, but I was so overwhelmed I couldn't think. Argh.

I guess part of the point of this post is to serve as a reminder to myself, part as a warning to everyone to be sure to check your visas and passports before travelling—be clear about all the immigration and customs terms, lest you run into problems, or be wronged by poorly-trained security/ground staff/whatever have you.

Changi Airport, it was not cool. I'm beyond disappointed as a Singaporean.