The story of the indigenous Filipino who was blocked by an airline personnel to board her flight to Brazil saddened me. It reminded me of a somewhat similar experience, albeit not as worse as the girl’s brush with Mr. Shawa must have been.
I imagine Arjean Marie Belco on her first flight out of the country. She must’ve been looking forward to what’s likely would be one of the most memorable experiences of her life. After all, not everyone her age gets to travel for World Youth Day and have the chance to see the new pontiff who’s earning the admiration of Catholics and some non-Catholics alike.
Sadly, the trip was somewhat marred by an airline personnel who, for some unknown reason, took it upon himself to play immigration officer. Ms. Belco ended up stranded at Kuala Lumpur for two days because of the incident.
A few hours after I read the post about Ms. Belco’s experience, KLM posted an update on their Facebook page confirming that she’s already en route to Brazil. Nothing was said about why Mr. Shawa acted the way he did. I’d like to think though that they are already investigating the matter and that proper measures will be taken to prevent it from happening again.
The story reminded me of my own unpleasant experience with an airline’s ground crew personnel while I was checking in at NAIA for my trip to The Hague many years ago. It was not my first trip out of the country, but it was my first outside Asia. I was alone, anxious about the 16-hour flight, but mostly excited about the whole trip.
Before that experience, I was used to traveling with my team wearing the country’s colors with pride each time we leave for international competitions. But the sense of pride was somewhat shattered that day when the airline personnel at the check-in counter grilled me with questions that I have not once heard from immigration officers in my previous travels. It was a humiliating experience given the line of questioning. There was a long queue behind me. I felt embarrassed by the questions that I was sure many in the line behind me heard.
The barrage of questions from the guy behind the check-in counter initially stumped me. Thankfully, I managed to answer all of them and even showed the guy some of my documents. In retrospect, I now know that I shouldn’t have since it was none of his business anyway. But at that time, I was beginning to worry about what I thought I’d have to go through immigration after I was subjected to that kind of questioning.
As it turned out, I breezed through immigration both at NAIA and at Schipol.
I swear that I hated that guy for what he did, especially after I realized how my departure would have gone smoothly if not for him. But he also taught me a lesson, one that I often try to remind myself – that a person’s passport should not be used to judge his or her character and motives.