Thursday, August 04, 2016

On planes, passports, and such

There was a conversation on my twitter timeline this morning that I wanted to reply to, but my reply wasn't fitting into one tweet, and then I got distracted by this silly thing called work. And then by the time I remembered I felt I should just bring it here.

A plane from India to Dubai crashlanded at the Dubai airport yesterday. And once it was established that all the passengers and crew were safe, beyond some injuries (although a firefighter died), most of the conversation online turned to the behavior of the passengers online during the evacuation process.

Every time you board a flight, and they take you through the safety procedures (which, let's face it, most people don't pay attention to, because "that's never going to happen to me"), one of the things they tell you is in case of an evacuation, leave all your belongings behind. In the case of this flight, there seems to be video evidence that these passengers didn't listen to that particular of advice.

And the internet (especially some of the travel bloggers I follow) went crazy with all kinds of "omg look at these selfish morons" comments.

And I get it, I do. When you're in that life or death situation, every moment counts, and every moment spent looking for things you absolutely cannot leave behind adds to the danger of the situation.

But. Let's take a moment to look at the other side of things, yes? This was an international flight, and I would assume the passengers (a majority of whom were Indian) were therefore a mix of business travellers, tourists, and migrants - people who were leaving their home country to work in another country. And when you're in those groups, on an international flight, going to a country that is not your own, you belongings matter. Right, I mean, they always matter, but when you're travelling or living outside your country, your documents and your passport matter more than ever. Because they're all you have that can let you go anywhere. Everything else - money, phone, clothes, electronics, gifts - can be replaced. More easily by some than others, depending on your financial situation. But your documents? Renewing or replacing them in ordinary circumstances is a nightmare. Can you imagine having to do them when you have nothing to prove who you are and that you have the right to be there?

I remember reading, when the Brussels airport was attacked a few months ago, about the Indian passengers who were stranded there when the airport was shut down. Jet Airways used to fly a fifth freedom flight through Brussels at the time, so most of these Indians didn't have a visa for Belgium. So they had to be kept in one of the hangars at the airport till alternate travel arrangements could be figured out, because they didn't have the right to leave the airport. And this is when they had their documents with them.

It's been six years since I was robbed in Italy, and had to spend a week borrowing money from coworkers each time I wanted to buy even a bottle of water. But every time I think back to that episode now, I thank all the serendipity that helped me not lose my passport at the time.

A couple of years ago, the fire alarm went off in my apartment building at 2 am on a Saturday morning, and we all had to evacuate. I grabbed my phone, which was next to my pillow, and my keys, which hung next to the entrance door. I can't remember if I had grabbed my wallet or not. But I remember standing on the road outside, shivering, and wishing I had grabbed a sweatshirt. And My passport. More than anything, I wished I had grabbed my passport, because if that darn building had burned to the ground, where would I be? It didn't, because the alarm turned out be nothing more than a bunch of drunk twits thinking they were hilarious, but I still wish I had grabbed my passport that night.

And I didn't have a hundred other passengers behind me to consider that night. So to the universe who doesn't read this blog, I say this: give the folks who were on that plane a break, will ya? They're dealing with enough trauma without needing the internet to dump on them too.