Trip ruined after passport swopped at airport

Magali Bertrand waited and waited to get compensation from the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and their risk brokers, Aon South Africa, when her passport was given to someone else after she cleared border control at Cape Town International for her trip on July 18, last year.

The Observatory resident said she faced “a wall of silence from Acsa”. “I was due to fly to Dubai and then Brussels with Emirates Airlines. I checked in my luggage, got my boarding pass and went to the first control and on to security. When I reached the second checkpoint I realised that I left my passport behind and went back in less than a minute. The officer said he couldn’t find it but offered no help,” said Ms Bertrand.

“The officer picked up my French passport from the tray and gave it to another passenger without checking it, otherwise he would have seen that I am white and the woman he gave it to was black. I filed a police report, hoping the other passenger had returned the passport. She hadn’t. Police officers watched the incident on CCTV. I left the airport and went to a photographer for ID pictures and then to the French consulate in Gardens to get a new passport. When I returned to the airport I tried to board a later flight but could not. I had to buy a one-way ticket to Amsterdam and Brussels and then a return ticket on the original Emirates flight with my two minor children back home to Cape Town. The whole exercise cost me R30 000. Please could you try to get me some compensation,” said Ms Bertrand, who was at the airport that day from 10am to 11pm. “It was extremely stressful.”

Acsa said there was a “most unfortunate incident at the security point”.

“We regret that Ms Betrand missed her flight and the subsequent inconvenience caused.

“Unfortunately when Ms Betrand collected her belongings she did not pick up her passport. This led to it being incorrectly given to a different passenger, who left with her documentation. It was an honest mistake,” Acsa said.

Ms Bertrand wrote to Acsa and Aon without much success. On September 3, Ms Bertrand told Acsa: “Dear customer care, unlike your message indicates, I can see you have not attended to my complaint in 24 hours. Please could you let me know what is going on. Tomorrow I will file a complaint against Acsa at the police,” and she repeated her story, to no avail.

Ms Bertrand wrote to Acsa again on November 23: “As of today, your litigator has not received the supporting documents for my claim after your employee gave my passport to someone else as shown on CCTV. I sent those documents months ago. I will send them again but I would have thought this was basic admin. I’ve had to take a second job to make up the R30 000 because Acsa’s employee messed up.”

Aon’s special claims adviser told Ms Bertrand on January 17 (2019) that they are compiling “your claim for settlement proposal to Acsa for approval. Our office will forward a settlement proposal within the next couple of days”.

Well, it was much longer than a couple of days.

“In spite of your reply dated January 17, this is the last day of January and still no news from Acsa. I would like someone to contact me today, January 31. I think six months should be enough to assess the claim,” Ms Bertrand said.

The special adviser then wrote: “My apologies for the delay in the matter. We received the outstanding information from Acsa on January 7 but as they were changing brokers we had to wait for confirmation that we may continue to handle your claim. Acsa has given us the approval to negotiate a settlement figure with you. We are busy looking at the figures and will email it shortly on approval. I am on leave but will be working your claim via email.”

In February Aon and Acsa offered Ms Bertrand R20 013 “in full and final and absolute settlement of all or any claims”.

Which Ms Bertrand reluctantly accepted.

“To cut a long story short, I will be responsible for 40% and Acsa for 60% of the claim. So I will get R20 013 compensation.”

The compensation is based on the insurance company’s usual 40/60 split. That Ms Bertrand is 40% to blame and Acsa 60%.

Ms Bertrand said she was tired of fighting Acsa but when she told Acsa she thought she should be responsible for only 30%, she mistakenly received a message from Aon who thought they were writing to the lawyer: “If she’s not happy, we’ll tell her she must pay 50%”.

“But not so politely,” added Ms Bertrand.