Stranded cashless in London No matter how wealthy you are, this can happen to you. One minute your wallet is in your handbag or back pocket, next thing it’s gone, either lost or stolen.
If you are in Hong Kong, chances are that if you left it on the back seat of a taxi, the driver will have handed it in. There are a lot of honest people in Hong Kong.
But imagine you are travelling and far from home. You know you had your wallet because you checked it before boarding a flight from Dublin to London. You were feeling a bit edgy because it had a lot of cash in it, due to HSBC’s advice to carry more foreign currency, in case your UnionPay ATM doesn’t work.
Suffice to say, two hours later, I’m in London Heathrow coach station; I reach for my wallet to pay for the ticket to Woking train station. Gone, together with cash, credit card, ATM and HK ID card.
Go back to the airline says the ticket lady. A helpful Eastern European chap on the Aer Lingus desk first says he can’t make international calls, then after I plead, thumbs through a dog-eared black book and started dialling. I know I had it at Boarding Gate 407 in Dublin Airport. He can find no number for Aer Lingus airside at Dublin, their home airport. He’s told lost property is handled by Dublin’s airport authority Aer Rianta, even if my wallet had been picked up by Aer Lingus staff. He can’t help me.
So I’m stuck in London airport on a hot day with a heavy suitcase and not even enough cash for a bottle of water. What to do? Luckily, the iphone works, so a quick call to Bank of China to cancel the credit card. Then to my mother to report myself stranded. She said get a taxi and we will pay this end, but they live 200 miles away. There must be a way to get on a coach and train in the UK without cash, but how?
I can’t buy a ticket online without a credit card and can’t print it out even if I could. My London friends are all too busy mid-afternoon to hoof it to Heathrow. Hong Kong friends are messaging kind offers of help via Amex and Cathay Pacific, but I kept thinking that in 2013 there must be a simpler way. Finally it dawns. Could someone else buy coach and train tickets online and email them to me via iphone?
Seemingly a simple solution
As soon as you hit on a simple solution, be afraid. There will be a snag. And there is. A kind friend hastily buys and emails me a coach ticket from London to Woking. It’s there, on my iphone. Bu the ticket lady says it must be printed out and she can’t do it. For which read, does not want to do it. So next stop information desk, explain predicament and show him the ticket on the iphone – note “him” – men are much more helpful to damsels in distress. He scratches his turban, thinks about it: “Come with me.” He escorts me to Bay 13, the Woking bus is boarding. His Sikh driver colleague listens, smiles, and says: “I can see you have a ticket, don’t worry about the printout, and just get on.” I thank both of them profusely and away we go.
Will the same thing work on the train? My friend tries to buy an online train ticket but it has to be done at least two hours before travel. He emails the ticket – thank heavens internet roaming was working, because wifi isn’t – apologising that I will have to wait two hours before catching a train. That’s the rule.
At Woking train station I explain my predicament, to a helpful chap. He flags a new hitch – I need to show the actual purchasing credit card before he can issue a ticket. He knows I have a ticket, he can see it on the iphone, but rules are rules. Ironically, he says, you don’t need to show the credit card for an airline ticket.
He takes pity on me, hot, stressed and tired and says: ‘Let’s try this. Go to the station master’s office on platform 2 and explain. Maybe he will let you on the train. Doris! Let this lady through the barrier.”
That’s the biggest hurdle overcome, getting past the ticket barrier. Whatever happens now I can I sneak onto the train and then take my chances with the guard. But the ticket guy is watching so I trot off to the station master. He says this is a bit irregular, sucks his pen, thinks, then writes me a ticket himself. In beautiful copperplate, with carbon paper in triplicate and hands me the top copy.
Clearly satisfied with his work, he says give it to the guard on the train. “Shouldn’t really do it,” but I can see you’ve got the ticket, he says.
Hurrah for kind people, common sense and old technology. My mother met me off the train in Somerset and all was well.
Meanwhile, back in Dublin, frantic phone calls to the airport produced nothing. Email a lost property report, my friend’s husband is told. He does. No response. So he very kindly drives the hour to the airport and demands to see the in-charge person. He refuses to be fobbed off. Finally, glory be, someone emerges from somewhere with my wallet, untouched, everything still inside.
An Aer Lingus staff member had picked it up where I had apparently dropped it at departure gate 407. There are several morals here: Firstly, chain your wallet to your body when travelling. Secondly, make sure you have good friends in many countries. Thirdly, believe in human nature, there are honest people out there. Thank you. And finally, never take no for an answer. Rules may be rules, but if you are pleasant, persistent and grateful, you can bend them a long way. From London Airport to Crewkerne in Somerset.