Louis Herman-Watt and his damp passport cross the Ditch aboard JQ216 from Auckland to Melbourne.
The plane: An Airbus A320. Nothing to sing home about, and possibly more suited to domestic flying with the less salubrious leg room but it's clean and comfortable enough ... just.
Price: The trip was booked on the spur of the moment, egged on by the prospect of $330 return fares. Delightful.
Flight time: Probably contributes to said delightful price — scheduled for 3hr 55m in the air, we were leaving Auckland on a Thursday night at 8.40pm, only to be delayed half an hour with the plane's late arrival. Passenger tension at the gate just started to get noticeable when boarding began.
My seat: I was in 11C and was bumped by the attendants trolley only four or five times.
Food and drink: Wouldn't have a clue, tried to get an attendant's attention to plead for a glass of water but had no luck. My neighbour had a fairly healthy looking sandwich delivered however, and it seemed pleasant enough.
Entertainment: No screens on the back of the seats or quirky quiz to be found. There was a Where's Wally picture in the magazine which was a nostalgic plus — I didn't manage to find him though which put yet another dampener on proceedings. More about dampeners in a moment ...
The toilets: Clean and freely accessible.
Luggage: It will be no surprise that my stunningly cheap fare didn't include check-in luggage, but I was happy to learn I could pay an extra $30 the day before flying to upgrade from 7kg to 10kg carry on.
The real story: Forget about the actual flight for a second — I forgot about it when I became convinced I wasn't going to make it on the plane.
Somehow after my last international excursion, my one-year-old smart passport found itself in the washing machine, an odd place for a passport, I know. I'm talking full one-hour, warm-water, suds and all.
Once this was realised I did all the things you do when you've wet any sort of paper material that's not supposed to get wet. At least an hour with the hair dryer, then into a bowl of rice (well, it's meant to work for mobile phones — and I was desperate). The result was that I had a mostly dry passport that resembled more of a fan than a book, with more crinkles than your favourite variety of potato chips.
Logically then, it went under a massive pile of bricks for at least half a week. As it started to take something closer to its more usual shape — faded as all hell, but definitely its more usual shape — I was convincing myself it would work just fine, it's electronic these days anyway, right? To ease my nerves I rang the Department of Internal Affairs, who passed me on to the Customs service. They seemed very lackadaisical about the situation, and even told me an anecdote about a passport that had been worked over by a canine but still functioned just fine. Brilliant.
The week before I flew I took another look at my uniquely worn identification and in a moment of weakness decided I should seek yet another opinion. Immigration New Zealand and the Passport Office fielded my slightly needy call with nothing but certainty: if it's been damaged or wet, you'll need to send it in to be checked but to be on the safe side, we advise you should just go ahead and order a new one. Right, $190 for a new passport, bugger. Oh wait, I was flying in six days; how much does an urgent passport cost? $390. Double bugger.
After a lot of deliberation and the thought of parting with nearly $400, I was getting desperate. A few days before the flight, I went out to the airport to seek advice. A helpful lady at a vacant Qantas desk, with some of her colleagues doubling as keen observers, took a look and agreed it was moist but not mangled. She scanned the chip and it yielded a satisfying "Bleep". "It's still alive and kicking as far as I can tell," she rejoiced.
After then receiving some extra advice on how to hold it to hide the worst of the damage from any over-cautious Customs officers, I was feeling comfortable. Of course, I still had to actually go through all of the processes on the night I flew. I won't pretend I wasn't packing myself either, but as hoped the machines read the chip and no one with an official uniform blinked an eyelid. Hurrah!
The bottomline: Is there a moral to this story? Probably not, I'd recommend just not putting your passport in the washing machine to start with.
But this did have a happy ending, my slightly wet passport avoided leaving me high and dry.