How I Was Denied Boarding at Bangkok International Airport in 2007

My journey around the world didn’t begin with a round-the-world ticket. Instead, my miraculous round-the-world journey somewhat kick-started with denied boarding.

 

For a 23-year old Malaysian girl possessed with fervent wanderlust, with little savings, no credit cards and no travel insurance to her name, it was a bad omen, warning her of the dangers ahead. But she was young and naive, with plenty of time and a handful of spunk.

 

So my journey began with a simpler thought: I will take one step, and then another. I’ll solve this problem and then another.

 

I never knew where I’d go and where the road will lead me to. I only planned to keep pushing boundaries and see how far that would take me.

 

And here’s a story of how I was denied boarding at first but then eventually succeeded to travel to Europe on a one-way ticket.

cairo airport

 

It wasn’t unusual that after a one-way train ticket to Bangkok and many other one-way tickets later across South East Asia within a span of 6 months, that I had toyed with the idea of Europe. While sitting cross-legged on a hostel bunk bed, in Hanoi, I confided in Heather, an English backpacker that I had just met a few days ago. I confessed to her, that Europe had been calling out to me a long time now. But how could I go when my bank account was almost. I had heard only of so many tales about travelling Europe, from drinking zesty white wine under the summer sun to eating pickled herring to cure a hangover, from hitch-hiking across sleepy nameless Lithuanian towns to dancing barefooted under the stars. My heart ached for the exoticism that the West provides.

 

Heather mulled over my confession for a while and then, offered to lend me £200 so that I could chase my dreams.

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despite being denied in bangkok, i made it to cairo airport

 

My monstrous backpack’s straps were starting to dig into my skin. My shoulders felt numb with all the weight of what’s left of my worldly possessions on them. I was lining up at the Egypt Airlines’ check-in counter at Suvarnabhumi Airport, clutching a one-way ticket to Amsterdam.

 

In May 2007, Bangkok’s new International Airport was still fairly new. Public transportation to the airport had yet to be organised. It was a feat on its own to get to the airport. After changing countless of busses from the backpacker ghetto of Bangkok plus crazy traffic, I was amazed that somehow by sheer luck, I’d managed to arrive at the airport on time.

 

When it was my turn, I slid over my passport, a printed itinerary and waited for the Thai lady behind the counter to pepper me with the usual questions.

 

But she didn’t.

Silence.

 

Only blaring airport announcements and her fingers clacking across the keyboard in the background.

 

I tiptoed to peer at my opened passport, lying open under her flaming red nails.

“You have visa for The Net-erlans?” she finally said. Her eyebrows were knotted in a deep furrow.

No, I explained. As a Malaysian, I could enter and travel any of the Schengen Countries without a visa for 90 days and that included The Netherlands.

 

“Well, for one-way ticket, you need visa. Or you cannot go. You must have return ticket. Back to your country,” she said firmly. Airline’s policy, she added, as if not wanting to take responsibility for my crestfallen face.

 

I tried to argue my way in. I told her that MY FRIENDS got to go to Europe or anywhere in the world on a one-way ticket, why not me? I bit my lips to stop myself from tearing.

 

It then dawned me that those of my friends who’d travelled on one-way tickets were the Americans, the Australians, the Dutch and the English. How could I have afforded to miss that?

 

Please, I pleaded. I just didn’t know that I need a return ticket, I said. The seedy tour agency on Khao San Road where I’d bought my ticket from didn’t warn me. 

 

The lady’s face slowly softened.

 

“I can help you postpone flight, ka,” the lady said kindly. “But you must come back with two-way ticket.”

 

That night, I trudged back to Soi Rambutri and emailed my Dutch friends that I wouldn’t be arriving in Amsterdam the next morning. In my 200 Baht shoe-box of a room, I tried to cover my worries with the scratchy sheets provided.

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It took me a while to find the seedy travel agency where I’d bought my one-way ticket.

 

Behind the cluttered desk, the dark skinned man with sparse mustache, who’d sold me the ticket, scowled when I regaled to him about what had happened.

 

“I told you. One-way ticket big problem but you no listen,” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and lifted my hands sheepishly, as if to say, Whaddya I know.

 

“Listen,” he beckoned with his finger. “I know you want cheap. I can give you. No problem. But, risky.”

 

Hope surge within. I leaned in closer and smelt his post-cigarette breath while my mind whirred furiously, thinking about the various legal (or illegal) possibilities that he’d offer. He said that he’d get me another ticket from Amsterdam all the way to Kuala Lumpur but on another airlines. The trick was to get the ticket one day before so that he could cancel the ticket right after I fly.

 

All I really needed to do was to pay 40 USD for the cancellation fee, and well, pray hard.

 

Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Was this how far I’d go to travel? Would I want to find out how far I could go with this ‘technically-valid’ ticket? What would happen if the authorities find out? Would the Dutch authorities send me to labour camp?

 

The questions swam in my head. Yet, yet–what if it works?  What did I stand to lose exactly anyway? 40 USD? A day? My bruised ego?

 

A clear safety net didn’t appear when I eventually paid the man 40 USD but I decided to leap anyway. I was young. And naïve. What could possibly happen?

 

#

 

When I entered the blasting cold Suvarnabhumi International Airport the second time, it was déjàvu. Except this time round, after scrutinising my perfectly legit (until the next 72 hours) ticket, the lady at the check-in counter smiled, gave me my boarding pass and waved me off to the departure gates.

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During the transit in Cairo airport, I was confronted by an Officer. I wasn’t sure if he was an Immigration Officer but he didn’t look Egyptian but rather European. A Dutch perhaps? In Cairo, we were supposed to hand our passports to the authority as soon as we landed so that they could sort out transit visas for us. After that, they told us to come back after an hour or so at the meeting point to collect our passports Everyone had to do it. I didn’t know what was happening so I just followed the crowd. Deep down, I was sweating with doubts: What if they find out? What if they find out?

 

When the hour came, I slid up to the counter which had a mountain of passports piled on top on another. I was praying my passport would be there. I asked the lady behind the counter for mine but after going through the lot, she shook her head and told me to wait. This was when my head pounded like a million drums going off at the same time. This is it, I thought. They’re going to deny my boarding this time and send me home. The “Immigration Officer” was summoned. I spied my passport in his hand as he approached me. His face wasn’t severe so I relaxed a little.

 

He kindly asked if I lived in Holland. And if I didn’t, he would like to check my return ticket. Hurriedly, I produced a crumpled mess from my backpack and handed it to him gingerly. He looked at it and then gave me back my passport.

 

“All good. Enjoy your trip, miss!”

 

23 hours later, I had my first Dutch beer at The Gollem and was taught to say: “Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest”.

 

denied boarding: arrival at Schipol Airport

 

I started out without a journey in mind. Yet by taking one step after another, it somehow led to an epic journey of 6+ years and one hell of an adventure.

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P.S-This happened in 2007 so rules and procedures might have changed since then.

 

P.P.S-If all fails, you may try this technique too: Fake Onward Flight Tickets by The Dromomaniac

 

P.P.P.S- All content provided on this post is for informational and entertainment purposes only. The owner of this blog post does not encourage or perpetuate illegal activities. 😀

 

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Ying Tey
Ying Tey (Piccola Ying) is a Malaysian freelance writer based in Germany. She's always in the pursuit of adventures and tales; so far, she's chalked up 68 countries to date. She'd previously funded her travels by teaching English on Costa Cruise Ships (yes–including the one that sank!), by making caffè lattes in London and Melbourne, and by writing copy for a Singaporean advertising agency, that persuades you to buy a Mini Cooper instead of a Toyota.

Today, she just wants to inspire you with stories that will make you take the path less travelled.

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7 comments

  • Aubrey 27/02/2014   Reply →

    What an adventure! This sounds terrifying but also kind of fun and exciting

    • Piccola Ying 28/02/2014   Reply →

      You bet, aubrey. I was pissed off then but it was all part of the adventure.

  • Silvia 03/03/2014   Reply →

    Ahh I always dread this happening at the airport! Glad everything worked out in the end!

    • Piccola Ying 03/03/2014   Reply →

      I’m glad it did too. Looking back, it was all part of the adventure.

  • You’re lucky that you don’t need a visa to go to Europe. But yeah, immigration policies are confusing, arbitrary at times, and a downright pain for frequent/long-term travelers like us.

    • Piccola Ying 09/03/2014   Reply →

      You are right paul. I do consider myself lucky already. Could have been far worse and more money and hassle to travel with other passports….

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