Friday, June 17, 2011

Onward Travel

Day 279 - 17.06.2011

She looked at my printout and then on her computer screen and a frown soon flashed across her face.

"Sir, do you have a visa?" The young girl at the AirAsia check-in counter asked.

"No, Singaporeans don't need a visa for less than fifteen days in China." I replied confidently.

"But you only have a 1-way ticket sir. Do you any other tickets out of China?" she further queried.

"No, I may be using bus or train, so I will be getting my tickets only when I am in China!" I replied not-so-confidently, my heart sinking a couple of notches.

"Sir, I can't let you board the plane unless you show proof of onward travel." She droned.

My heart sank further. This was the second time I had encountered this. Just a week plus ago, on my flight out of South America, I was also refused my boarding pass at the check-in counter in Buenos Aires airport.

At that time, I had thought that the world had conspired to keep me in South America. With the Chilean volcano ash cloud, my flight time was changed without notice to me, and then my check-in was deterred. Similarly, the Iberia staff had refused to issue the boarding pass unless I show proof of onward travel out of the EU. But luck was on my side then. While my original plan was overland travel through Europe to Turkey, somewhere along my trip in South America, a group of friends had tempted me with a customized photographic trip to Western Tibet, a place I had longed to go. So I had decided to join them and bought my flight tickets. Unfortunately, there were problems with obtaining my Chinese visa, and I had to forgo the trip. My tickets however, were non-cancellable; so I had proof of onward travel (out of Europe)!! And of course, I made it back to Brussels.

But now, here in the Kuala Lumpur low cost terminal, my flight to Chengdu was my last known transport to anywhere. I did not have any onward travel.

"Why can't I board the plane? I can go in China visa-free for fourteen days, and I can extend my visa and/or get my plane or bus tickets when I am in China! I never had any problems before. This is not my first time to China. Can you check with your supervisor please?" I tried to argue.

"Sir, it's our policy sir. Ok, I will check with my supervisor."

She returned with the same answer. And we had a remarkably similar exchange again on why I can't get onto the plane and why she can't allow it. Finally, she attempted to ask another (presumably) more senior supervisor. As she approached him, I moved forward to try to talk directly to this man, who certainly appeared a little more senior in years.

After another frustrating exchange, while he appeared more sympathetic, the result was the same.

"But I didn't have any problems before, when I had my one-way flight to Beijing. Why is this different?" I continued to argue.

"Ah, Beijing is different. You know China, each part is different, and their rules always change. We have our rules and they are very strict!" he explained.

Not particularly convincing, I thought.

"And if you are refused entry at the China immigration, you'll be turned back here!" he continued.

"Ok, I will take the risk lah. Just let me board the plane!" I pleaded desperately.

"No, no. We will get fined. The airline will get fined, and this poor girl will get into trouble as well!" he explained again.

That "poor girl" had the "Why Me?" look.

And, of course, the airline would get fined. Why do they need to care about me.

Luckily, Kuala Lumpur's LCCT had free Wifi in the terminal. So I used the same trick I used for my Brazil visa application. I looked for an online flight ticketing site that provided offline/delayed payment. I booked my flight, made sure my flight details and reservation number were clearly on my laptop screen, and rushed to the check-in counter again.

My flight was 6:15pm and it was already 5:30pm when my luggage finally got checked in.

"Got time to get my dinner or not?" I wondered aloud.

"Sir, you have to get to the boarding gate NOW!" the girl stressed.

It had been a long day. I hastened towards my onward travel.

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