Aug. 9: A university professor on her way to the US had mistakenly left her passport at a duty-free shop in the Calcutta airport and was sent back from Doha where she had a layover.
Chandana Mitra, an associate professor of geosciences at the College of Sciences and Mathematics in Alabama's Auburn University, had to spend 24 hours at Hamad International Airport in Doha and missed the connecting flight to Atlanta before being asked to return to Calcutta the next morning.
The woman, who flew back to Calcutta yesterday, said Qatar Airways staff members at the boarding gate had not asked her for her passport when she was boarding the flight. They only checked her boarding card, she said.
Officials of several airlines said that although it was not mandatory in India to check passports at the boarding point, most airlines do so to ensure only genuine passengers were boarding.
At the Doha airport, Mitra said today, Qatar Airways officials expressed shock that no one at the Calcutta airport, where she spent one-and-a-half hours in the boarding area after misplacing the passport at the duty-free shop in the departure zone, had taken any initiative to track her down by making announcements.
Around 3.50am, Qatar Airways is the only airline operating out of Calcutta airport's international section.
Mitra, a US resident for 12 years, had come to Calcutta to attend a conference and visit friends and relatives. She was booked on the Qatar Airways flight from Calcutta to Atlanta on August 7. She had a stopover in Doha.
The flight takes off at 3.50am and Mitra had arrived at the airport hours before.
"After clearing immigration and security check, I went to the duty-free area to buy chocolates. The duty-free store was dimly lit and initially I thought it was closed," Mitra recounted sitting in her Mandeville Gardens apartment.
Then a person emerged from inside the store and she asked him for a box of chocolates. The store employee took her passport for making the mandatory entry.
"The box cost $10. The dollar bills were in my laptop bag, which I had to keep on the table to take out the money. The passport was kept at the cash counter and I forgot to collect it while leaving the store," she said.
An hour and a half later, she boarded the Doha-bound flight. "The airline people only checked my boarding pass. Had they asked for the passport, I would have realised that it was not on me," she said.
Mitra reached Doha around 6.30am (local time). Her connecting flight to Atlanta was at 9am.
In the transit lounge, she reached for her passport but to her shock failed to find it. "I desperately tried to recollect where I could have left it. Suddenly I remembered that I had left it in the duty-free shop," she said.
Mitra immediately got in touch with Qatar Airways officials.
"They were surprised and asked me how the airline staff allowed me to board the flight in Calcutta without checking my passport. They were also surprised that no one spotted the passport at the duty-free store and tried to contact me during the one-and-a-half hours I spent in the boarding area after leaving the shop," she said.
Mitra showed the airline staff a scanned copy of the passport from her mailbox and other documents.
Qatar Airways officials in Doha asked their counterparts in Calcutta to search for the passport. Sources said the airline staff in Calcutta failed to find it.
"The airline people in Doha were very helpful and even provided me with a lounge access card and allowed me to use their phones to make calls to India," the academic said.
Mitra called a friend who works at the Calcutta airport and asked him to look for the passport. The friend found the document in the duty-free store in the arrival area.
"I took it to the office of the airport manager, who handed it to a Qatar Airways official," he said.
"Had my friend not found it, I don't know what would have happened," Mitra said.
But her ordeal didn't end there.
Qatar security officials told the airline that Mitra could not stay in transit for more than 24 hours. It would be 27 hours since her arrival in Doha if she was to take the Atlanta flight the next morning.
She was sent back to Calcutta on the return flight on August 8. Qatar Airways officials, meanwhile, handed over her passport to the immigration department at the Calcutta airport.
Mitra booked a fresh ticket on Virgin Airlines spending more than Rs 67,000. She also lodged a complaint with Qatar Airways. The airline didn't comment today.