Our time in Barcelona having now been skipped over as (like so much of life) fun but irrelevant, we come, as anticipated, to the day of our return trip. This time, my colleague and I were departing for the airport together, and had (thanks to some prior negotiation with the airline which completely failed to appear in the narrative of part I) some expectation of sitting together on the flight back across the great Atlantic Ocean. And so, with an oodle and a half of time to spare (neither of us being, by nature, the kind of person who shows up at the airport fifteen minutes before the flight and jumps up and down saying, “hey, can I get past you? Only my flight is already boarding….”) we trundled our luggage to the wildly convenient centrally located underground railway station, got on the train, and were whisked—or at any rate, conveyed—to the station at the airport. From there it was a quick trip by moving walkway (⅔ working) over the bridge to the terminal building itself.
And there, behind the immense queue, was the check-in desk.
Undaunted, and still with 8⁄7 of an oodle of time in hand, we headed towards the queue, only to discover that our queue was a small queue quietly nestled behind the big one. So we joined the small queue, and in next to no time, for a change, it was our turn. Then, together, we went to the counter, and commenced our checking in.
The clerk took our tickets, and took our passports, and asked us where we were going, and where we lived. And at this point the confusion set in. We explained it once; we explained it twice. The clerk looked baffleder and baffleder. Finally, a supervisor was called: a small, quick man with a quick, excitable manner and smiling eyes. And at this point I face a slight technical difficulty in the recounting of my tale: since neither I, nor my friend, speaks a word of either Spanish or Catalan, I have not the slightest idea what was actually said over the button poking and passport waving that then ensued. So I am going to completely make the next bit up.
“What seems to be the problem?” the supervisor (I am guessing) asked.
“It is these passengers,” the clerk (as I imagine) replied.
“And what is it about these passengers that appears to be causing you such difficulty?” the supervisor (it seemed) continued.
“It is altogether entirely confusing! This first passenger appears to be an Englishman, living in Canada, travelling via New York! Yet, and at the same time, this second passenger, appears to be a Canadian, living in America, flying to San Francisco! But somehow they are travelling together! And this will not fit into my head!”
“Ah! Ah! Let me explain! The gentleman, he is English. He wishes to go to New York, because he is travelling to Canada. The lady, she is Canadian. She, too, wishes to go to New York, because she is travelling to California. And they wish to talk to each other during the flight, which is more convenient if their seats are adjacent.”
“Yet still, somehow, this does not fit into my head!”
“They have tickets. They wish to fly.”
“Aha! So I should do my job!”
“Yes, there you have it.” The supervisor smiled, nodded, and walked away.
The clerk turned back to the computer, took up my colleague’s passport, and stopped. Stared. Called the supervisor back.
“I have the passport. I have the computer. I believe that now I am supposed to scan the passport and press a button. Or perhaps, press a button, and scan the passport. Yet where is the button that I am supposed to press?”
“Here is the button. You press it, thus. See? Now it is pressed.”
“I see. And I scan the passport how?”
“With the scanner. Permit me. See? Now it is scanned.”
“Aha! And next comes the reading of the screen?”
“I should read it?”
“And what does it say?”
“The documents are in order.”
“Excellent. Then perhaps we should say as much to the first passenger, and turn our attention to the second.”
And so it was my turn. The supervisor took up my passport, leafed through it forwards, leafed through it backwards, leafed through it forwards again. And turned to me and spoke, in rapid, rhythmic and ebullient English. “Sir. I see you are an Englishman, travelling to Montreal, in Canada, from Barcelona, where we are, via New York, in the United States of America. And where is it that you live?”
“I see. And yes, this is indeed your passport, and this is indeed your photograph. Can I trouble you to show me your proof of residency in Canada?”
“It is there in the little envelope attached to my passport.”
“It is here, you say, in this little empty envelope attached to your passport?”
And then I thought, oh.
(And this is the point at which I should recall to your memory, as the discovery of the empty envelope recalled to mine, the incident on my first attempt to leave on this trip, wherein the Canadian immigration official sent me home with instructions to determine the status of my citizenship application. This was a process involving a web site and large number printed, in small letters, on the back of the little card that is supposed to reside, at all times, in the little envelope stapled so conveniently into my passport. A process that resulted, I now recalled, in the little card sitting, face down, on my desk, by the computer. Where it probably, indeed, still sat….)
“Um. Yes, well, that is the little envelope where it goes. And, um, you are right, it is not there.”
“Sir, in that case, I cannot let you on my aeroplane. I am sorry.”
I stood stupidly for a second. I stood stupidly for a second second. Then I thought quickly for a third second, in an attempt to catch up. I spoke. “I do understand that the little card really ought to be in the little envelope. But why is this a problem for us?
“I am English, and as things now stand, I have the right to be in Spain. I am English, and as the UK is a visa waiver country, I do not need a visa to visit America. And I am English, and because of the Commonwealth, I do not need a visa to visit Canada. In the worst case, then, I travel to Canada as a tourist, I go to my home, I pick up my resident’s card from my desk where I seem to have left it, I return to the airport, I go out by the immigration desk, and I come back in. And the problem is thereby resolved.”
“But I am afraid to say that still there is a problem. Let me explain.
“It is true that, as an Englishman, you do not need a visa to be in Spain.
“It is true, that as an Englishman, you do not need a visa to visit the United States of America.
“It is true, that as an Englishman, you do not need a visa to go to Canada.
“It is even true, that as an Englishman, you do not need a visa to visit Canada, and then travel to the United States.
“However, as an Englishman, you do in fact need a visa to travel through the United States, without visiting the United States, on the way to Canada, without coming back, unless you can prove that you are a resident. And that is why I cannot let you on the flight.
I had an intelligent response to this information, almost as if prepared. “What?” I asked.
My companion had an even more intelligent response just as much at the ready. “But … is there anything to be done about it?” she followed up.
“Oh, yes.” said the supervisor. “You can go to Guatemala.”
I tried my intelligent response a second time, to see if it had improved with age.
“You see,” said the supervisor, a little more slowly, “according to Canadian law you do not need a visa to go to Canada. And according to American law you do not need a visa to go to America. But according to American law, you do need a visa to go to Canada (or of course to Mexico) unless it is on the way to somewhere else. So we will send you to Guatemala.”
“But I do not want to go to Guatemala!”
“You do not have to actually go to Guatemala. You merely have to have a ticket to Guatemala. Then we will look at your ticket and say, ah! You do not plan to stay in Canada! You are travelling later to Guatemala! So you do not need a visa to travel through America. All our problems are solved.”
“And this works?”
“But of course! It happens all the time.”
“And why Guatemala?”
“It does not have to be Guatemala. Guatemala is just an example. It could be Peru. But there is a lady over there, at our ticket office, she can very quickly sell you a ticket to Guatemala. It is fully refundable. It is very easy. You have a credit card? You can get a refund as soon as you arrive in Montreal. You will never be billed. It is not a problem.”
“Yes, sir, believe me, it happens all the time. Buy yourself a refundable ticket to Guatemala and come back here.”
So—we walked over to the ticket office, and there spoke to the nice lady.
“Um, hello. I was just checking in for the flight to New York, where I am changing planes to go to Montreal, in Canada, and it seems there is an irregularity with my paperwork. And the supervisor said that if I bought a refundable ticket to Guatemala….”
A certain light went on in her eyes. “Ah! That’s right. A refundable one-way ticket from Montreal to Guatemala.”
“This all makes sense to you, then?”
“Yes, of course. Do not worry, this happens all the time. May I see your passport? Good. And your credit card? Thank you. Please sign here. Here is your ticket. You can get your refund from our ticket office in Montreal. Do not tell anybody about this ticket unless they ask. But in case somebody does ask, I have given you a ticket for April the first, it is easy to remember.”
“Um, thank you.”
“Have a good flight.”
So—we went back to the check-in desk, and stood in front of the by now rather more numerous other queueing people (like the oodleless people try to do) and waited until the supervisor noticed us and called us over.
“Ah, good! I see now that you are travelling on to Guatemala City after you have visited in Montreal! This is not a problem, there is no problem at all. Everything is in order. Here, come over here, we will check you in, do you have bags to check?”
And as this is getting long, I shall leave my account of the return trip itself to the next instalment.