A life preserver for stranded fliers

By Billy Corriher

Darron Rodgers was supposed to be in sunny Bermuda by now. But, because of a mix-up with his passport, Rodgers had to settle for Alabama.

Rodgers is the coach of the Westlake High School basketball team, and he was supposed to travel with his team to play in a tournament in Bermuda on Friday.

But, because Rodgers did not bring an official birth certificate, only a hospital record, from his native Alabama, he was not cleared to fly to Bermuda.

"It's very frustrating," he said. "My team is going to be very disappointed if I can't come."

When Rodgers was turned away at the boarding gate, he came to Warren Fowler at the denied boarding desk for help. Every day, Fowler helps frustrated fliers with passports or lost identification.

"We're kind of like the knight in shining armor when someone's in distress," he said. But for some passengers, like Rodgers, there's not much he can do.

"We bend over backward, but only to a point," he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, border security has become much stricter and countries, like Bermuda, are very particular about what forms of identification they will accept.

Because Rodgers did not have a state-issued birth certificate, he had to drive to Alabama to get one before he could board.

"I was looking forward to this trip," Rodgers said. "I guess I'll try to get another flight tomorrow."

Anytime someone comes in with a passport problem, Fowler gets on the phone with embassies, immigration authorities or anyone around the world who can help the passenger with their dilemma and get them on their flight.

Often Fowler's clients only have a few minutes to catch a plane, and they require much more immediate attention.

"It's kind of like working triage," he said. "I have to look at it like, whoever's bleeding the worst goes first."

The best way for fliers to avoid this hassle, Fowler said, is to plan ahead and make sure you have the most current information on what identification you need.

"The onus is always on the traveler," he said. "They have to have the correct information about what's needed to go where."

Fowler said that if fliers want to double-check their information on what identification to bring, they can call international visa services, the airline or the airport.

"The best way is to contact the immigration office of the country," he said. "But few people think to do that."

When Rodgers received his travel information from his contacts in Bermuda, he did not find out it was out of date until he tried to board.

But Fowler said his desk can usually find a way to help the passengers that come for assistance.

"That's the best feeling, when we can help somebody get where they need to go," he said. "They're so relieved."