LOS ANGELES – Check-in didn’t open until 8:30 a.m., but Barry was there early and became the first in line.
With his shaved head, plaid shorts, flip-flops and faded t-shirt, he was already ready for a hedonistic return to Pattaya where he hadn’t been since before the coronavirus pandemic began. But his triumphant return to Sin City crashed on the rocks before he ever set sail.
As the check-in desks were preparing to open, the Thai desk attendant for the Japanese airline asked to see his Thailand Pass QR code. Barry looked at him with a blank stare.
OK, no QR code. Do you have a Certificate of Entry then? The airline staffer inquired, in perfect English. He might as well have been speaking Swahili.
Barry had flown excitedly from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles International Airport after seeing the “Test & Go” marketing campaign from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Foreign Affairs Ministry. So Barry got his coronavirus test and go he did on the next flight.
Barry fell for the hype. He didn’t know Test & Go is a lie. So he showed up at LAX with his negative coronavirus test result in his hand, his vaccination card and proof of US$100,000 in Covid-19 insurance and expected to get on the plane.
He never even made it to the counter. The airline staffer pulled out a folding chair, popped it open next to the automated check-in kiosks and told him to take a seat. “You’ll be here a while,” he added.
When asked if he really had shown up with nothing more than a few sheets of paper and expected to get on a plane to Thailand, Barry told the Bangkok Herald that he did. “I must have looked at the wrong information,” he said.
Barry had never heard of a Certificate of Entry, let alone Thailand Pass. He hadn’t booked a hotel and didn’t know where to find SHA+ or Alternative Quarantine packages that included Covid-19 tests. But he had an Android tablet and figured he could get his Thailand Pass while he waited. After all, the flight didn’t leave for three hours.
The airline staffer didn’t help. He had given Barry the URL for Thailand Pass and the name an ASQ hotels site, although not the official government one. Barry sat in his folding chair and typed the URLs into his tablet and tried to sort it out.
The Bangkok Herald reporter who witnessed the comedy of errors informed Barry he wasn’t going to get a QR code today, or probably even tomorrow. The reporter suggested Barry wander over to Terminal 1 and see if Southwest Airlines had a cheap flight back to Phoenix. He needed to go home.
But Barry wasn’t giving up so easily. About 20 minutes later there he still was, in his metal folding chair, tapping away on his Android tablet.
Barry clearly didn’t do his homework, not to mention making unrealistic assumptions about international flying during a pandemic. Very few countries allow people to just book flights and show up with a test result.
But his saga also highlights again how Thailand is torpedoing its efforts to rebuild tourism by not only forcing tourists to jump through asinine hoops, but falsely marketing its reopening as easy as “Test & Go”.