The seatback pocket is not the place for your passport

Frank Fantasia plans the perfect vacation to Portugal with family and friends. They land in Lisbon as scheduled and disembark. When they arrive at Portuguese Immigration, Fantasia realizes he left his passport on the plane in the seatback pocket. Portuguese officials not only detain him, but deport him back to Boston. Will our advocates fight for his compensation?

Question: I arrived in Lisbon on TAP Portugal on June 5. I left my passport on the plane and was not allowed to return to the gate to retrieve it. As a result I was detained by Portuguese immigration, separated from my wife.

I was detained for 24 hours and put on a plane back to Boston. I had to purchase a new passport in Boston for $195 so that I could book a return flight to Lisbon the same day. That flight cost $2,900. Can you help me get TAP to pay? — Frank Fantasia, Winchester, Mass.

Answer: How devastating it must have been to be in a foreign country, separated from your wife and friends, held in a detention facility and deported back to the U.S. I’m truly sorry this happened to you.

When you realized your mistake, you turned around and attempted to persuade the TAP agent to allow you back on the plane. You were refused entry at the gate. You had no choice but to proceed to Immigration in Portugal. Having no passport, you were detained until the next flight out of Lisbon to Boston. The original return portion of your ticket was used to return you to Boston.

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In order to return to your wife and your vacation, upon your arrival in Boston, you purchased a same-day return ticket to Lisbon on a different airline and paid an expedited fee to have a new passport issued.

First, you’re not alone. It’s widely reported that 300,000 Americans lose their passports or have them stolen every year.

Back in 2013, our own Christopher Elliott filed a video report for USA Today about what to do if you lose your passport, and he reiterated the same information in a more recent article last year.

You wrote to TAP Portugal customer service and explained the situation to them. You requested to “speak with a senior member of the TAP staff to further discuss this situation.”

The initial response from a customer service representative concluded there wasn’t much to be discussed.

Upon realizing you had lost your passport you would not be allowed back on board due to security reasons, this is not an airline policy but an aviation regulation and regulations imposed by the governing bodies at the airport of arrival.

Certainly without a passport you are unable to enter any international destination and are exposed to the consequences implemented by the government authorities of that country. The airline unfortunately, cannot control the policies and regulations of the governing bodies the dictate the regulations to enter a foreign country.

As you requested, however, the representative sent your email to a manager for further review. Their conclusion was the same. “We thank you for your patience while we were reviewing the above mentioned claim that deserved our utmost attention. I do understand your predicament and the extreme inconvenience caused by the fact that you forgot your passport on board.”

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Your correspondence to our advocates and to TAP never indicated why you put your passport in your seatback pocket. Perhaps you needed it to fill out the Portuguese immigration form. Perhaps it had been there the entire flight.

You perceived the situation this way when you posted to our forums.

Due to TAP’s unwillingness to assist me with a simple request to return to the plane to retrieve my passport which was left in the pouch on the seat back in front of me I experienced a most difficult emotional time, was separated from my wife and travel companions and incurred much additional expense.

Our forum advocates’ responses were virtually the same as the airline’s.

Unfortunately for you, this is a case where you cannot and should not hold anyone but yourself responsible for the consequences of your actions. If Portuguese security regulations wouldn’t allow you to reboard the aircraft, that’s not TAP’s fault.

You further believe the airline should compensate you for not allowing you to reboard an international aircraft that was secured at the gate. Unfortunately, your mistake caused this problem and, I’m sorry, we can’t help you.

Chip Hiebler

Chip enjoyed a successful career in the IT field. Now he's retired and splits his time between experiencing destinations and cultures beyond his home in Baltimore and generally having fun. He currently supports the mission of Elliott.org as the co-director of the research department.

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