Srilankan Airlines Employee Turns King Kekille!
Posted on May 26th, 2014

Opinion-By Dr.Tilak S. Fernando

 An incident that took place at the Bandaranaike International Airport’s Exit Lounge during the early hours of 15 May 2014, when passengers were about to be embarked into a Paris bound SriLankan aircraft, certainly makes King Kekille ( Kekille Rajjurwo) have hysterics!

It happened on the 15th night (early hours of 16th) when a sister of a very Senior Government Minister was waiting patiently at the final Exit Lounge at the Bandaranaike International Airport until the call came to embark the plane. She had gone through checking-in procedure at the SriLankan counters, cleared the immigration and passport control etc when an Official of the SriLankan Airlines approached her, out of the blue, and demanded to see her documents of her sponsor in Paris.

Having travelled to other destinations in the world before she had not regarded it as a necessity to carry such documents as those have been already submitted to the French Embassy and the British High Commission when she applied for a Schengen visa and a British entry permit. She is also a Director at a prominent Sri Lankan government Institution, and her trip to Paris was only to attend her niece’s wedding on the following morning in Paris. To that effect her bag and baggage was full of important items required for the wedding and gifts too.

She had officially obtained her Schengen visa which qualified her to visit any European country, also a British visa for her to travel thorough the UK after the wedding. In conforming to the airline regulations she was travelling on a return ticket as well.

The day before the flight she experienced a slight hiccup when she had not received her passport sent to Chennai to get her British visa stamped on her passport. However, consideration and commonsense prevailed on the part of the deputy High Commissioner at the UK embassy in Colombo ,when brought this to his kind notice, which helped her to collect her passport on the same day from the Visa Agency having got it down all the way from Chennai with the British entry visa already stamped.

Being quite confident   and holding her return Srilankan return ticket, armed with a Schengen and the British visa she sailed through all the barriers of checking in process and immigration control without a hitch. By this time she had released the driver also and let him return home as it was getting pretty late into the night.

The sudden approach of ‘this particular Srilankan official at the exit lounge’ who apparently has earned a reputation for harassing airline passengers in a similar manner in the past, and sending them home mercilessly at the last minute to much of their inconvenice, had approached this lady passenger out of the blue and prevented her embarking into the plane ‘without him inspecting her sponsor’s letter from Paris’.

Naturally she was thrown into such a quandary in the dead of night at the eleventh hour of her journey to Paris. In a dazed predicament not being able to think straight what she should do in a ‘marooned’ and a tight spot situation, the worse being having to harbour her shattered hopes of not being able to be at the wedding on the next morning, she tried to phone home and several contacts in Colombo to explain the situation, but she was unsuccessful as everyone appeared to be retired for the day and were fast asleep being past midnight, with their mobile phones too switched off!

This sudden incident caused an immense embarrassment, frustration, fury and disappointment to the passenger having lost the entire purpose of her intended travel to France to attend her niece’s wedding on the following morning. She ended up returning home in a taxi at 3.15 am.

There appears to be several complaints about this ‘particular officer’s’ immodest behavior of similar nature in the past, and the writer is informed that a list of passengers who flew Srilankan to Paris in the past are being collected with their experience to make a serious complaint to the Chairman of Sri Lankan Airways and to take this matter up to the very highest levels!

In some quarters a vital question being raised is whether there are machiavellian elements who are employed by the National carrier working purely to bring disrepute to Srilankan airways thereby chasing passengers away from flying Srilankan in the future, for, this kind of baloney has never taken place with other reputed international airlines which operate to Paris from Colombo!

Another Srilankan official when contacted had, in trying to safeguard their drastic action, come out with another gobbledygook by stating ‘ even last week we had a passenger deported from Paris who had travelled on forged papers and the airline had to pay €5000 as a fine’ ! The vital question is whether even if this particular passenger had papers in her possession how on earth this officer could have said whether they are genuine or false?

To be frank, this issue makes even the King Kakille chucklebecause the Airline in conforming to IATA regulations has to satisfy only three conditions in boarding a passenger to an aircraft on an air journey.

  1. Whether the passenger is travelling on a Valid Passport.
  2. Whether the passenger’s passport has a Valid Visa endorsement/entry permit to the destination
  3. Whether the passenger has a valid return ticket.

(Entry visas and sponsorship et al become the responsibility of relevant embassies)!

In this particular case, the lady passenger in question had satisfied all three conditions ” Possession of a Schengen Visa, British Visa and a return Srilankan air ticket.

The question arises here as to what powers a Sri Lankan Airline official at the EXIT LOUNGE has   in such an impetuous manner   just prior to the   final few minutes of her flight, especially after she had gone through the whole airport procedure of her visa being double checked at the checking in counter, her baggage being sent to the hold and also vetting her status at the Immigration and Emigration counter prior to her reaching the restricted area of the airport.

SriLankan officials at the Exit Lounge simply cannot play police or God   by demanding to see sponsor letters at the exit lounge as their only duty becomes to double check passenger passport details against the issued boarding cards to ensure that it is the same person, then punch boarding card into the automatic machine at the counter to record the flight details.

Even if one were to argue the case taking this issue of ‘sponsor’s letter in France’ (which is definitely not his area of responsibility) the question one could ask this officer is how on earth he is going to verify on the spot the bona fide status of that sponsor letter? This area of vetting had already become the sole responsibility of the Embassy and the High Commission concerned prior to the issuance of a visa. So it makes a real travesty of the whole episode when the officer having to come out with imprudent statements like the airline becomes responsible and subjected to a penalty!

In the interest of the good name of the national carrier it becomes the responsibility of the Senior SriLankan Management to investigate this matter and take some remedial action before frustrated prospective SriLankan air passengers begin to abandon flying the national carrier in the future.

The details of similar action and harassment to SriLankan passengers who took SriLankan Airways flights to Paris not so long ago are being gathered in Paris at present with a view to make comprehensive complaint to the Chairman of SriLankan Airways.

The writer is in possession of detailed information with regard to this debacle.

[email protected]

21 May 2014

12 Responses to “Srilankan Airlines Employee Turns King Kekille!”

  1. douglas Says:

    Air Travel is the most vulnerable mode of transportation that everyone has to be very cautious and careful. The incident that is described can happen to anyone, irrespective of your being a high profile passenger, in that:

    1. The mere possession of all the necessary documents viz. the valid passport; the visa; the medical records etc. relating to your travel is NO GUARANTEE that a person could travel and enter any country you are intend to.

    2. With all the required documents in possession, you still have to SATISFY the authorities at the entry level of that particular country. The Authorities at the entry level are : Immigration/ Boarder Services Agents; Security etc. These Authorities have all the power to DENY you entry to that particular country and return you to where you originated.

    3. As a result ,all Airport Staff handling the exit and entry of passengers are required to know and exercise vigilance at all times, as otherwise, many situations uncalled for could occur.

    In this particular situation, as you say, the staff wanted to examine the “Letter of Invitation”. As described above this staff has the right to examine the documents before or even after embarkation. The question here is the “Described Document” – “The Letter of Invitation” . I doubt it very much; because, unless the staff is a real dumb case, will know that the “Letter of Invitation” sent by the host will be retained at the Embassy of that particular country. But knowing what the passenger declared as the “Purpose of the Visit” (perhaps to attend a wedding in France) would have asked for the “Wedding Invitation” for further verification, and IF that is the case that staff was well within his authority to do so and it is his DUTY to do it.

    Even, if SriLankan Staff did not care to check it, the passenger would have been asked for it at the entry level, since there too he/she is required to state the “purpose of the visit”; and that was to “attend a wedding”, then the “Wedding Invitation Card” becomes a “required document”. Any failure to produce it, would “disqualify” the passenger,s entry to the country and that staff who deny such entry is acting well within his authority. The passenger has no claim to challenge that decision.

    In regard to this “Authority and the Powers” entrusted to staff at the airports, I would refer you to the incident where a prominent politician from Canada was denied entry to Sri Lanka and that also having come to the country with a “Valid Visa” issued from the Sri Lankan Embassy. If I remember correct that politician’s name was Mr. Rae.

    In another incident: a close relative of our very First President,( Late JRJ) who arrived in USA to assume duties in the Sri Lankan Embassy was refused entry to the country by the Boarder Services Agents and that decision was in force for ten long years.

    Next interesting point you have mentioned is the fact of collecting all information from France to report to the Chairman of the Airline. Is he the person who “diverted a regular” flight to board himself, wife and a friend from another airport being unable to wait for the flight they were booked to fly? Is he the person who ordered a plane to take off without waiting for sixty passengers connecting from another arriving flight, so incurring huge loss to the airline? Is he the person who downgraded a flight (air craft type) and stranded fare passengers in order to bring a “puppy dog” for a “Big Wig”? Is he the person who runs this airline at a loss of 22 Billion Rupees a year and still carry on “regardless”?

    If you answered YES to the above questions; you have found the real “KING KIKELLE”.

  2. helaya Says:

    Thilak,
    I think I know who this guy is. One time when I left SL at the airport he inspected my US passport more than half hour and kept asking questions.

  3. . Says:

    Reply
    There were two responses to my article as follows:
    1. “According to them, some European countries have coded information that identifies the type of sponsor letter issued to the visa holder and information about the sponsor residing in the country, which issues the visa. THIS CODE IS STAMPED ON THE BACK OF THE WOULD-BE PASSENGER’S PASSPORT ALONG WITH THE VISA NUMBER”.

    “Selected Sri Lankan Airline officers have been trained by the authorities of the relevant countries to check on the code and WHETHER IT TALLIES WITH THE CLAIM THE VISA HOLDER AND WHETHER THERE ARE ANY DISCREPANCIES AT THE POINT OF DEPARTURE FROM SRI LANKA”.

    Well and good! Assuming that it is the case, then it becomes the responsibility of the airline to advise passengers in advance (at the time of either the issuance of the ticket or even at a checking in point) about this procedure rather than causing any inconvenience to the passenger(s).

    2.. With regard to the second comment on ‘documents the Sri Lankan Airways officer wanted to see’, I am told by her relatives that the SriLankan officer wanted to double check on all the relevant documents ( including that of the letter of invitation) produced to the embassy at the point of her visa application. Dumb it may sound !

    I have also been informed that all documents produced in support of obtaining a visa will be returned back to the applicant once a visa is issued ( may be after the embassy retaining photocopies in their files! ). This perhaps could have been what the Sri Lankan Airlines officer had wanted to see!

    Again I emphasise that if was the case, it should have been brought to the notice of the passenger at the time of issuance of her ticket as a guide line well before she started her journey to the airport to catch a flight !

    Purpose of her visit ‘to attend a wedding’ was from my personal knowledge but she may have applied for a visitor’s visa. However, she had been granted a valid Schengen and a British visa without any problem, and the worst being she was allowed to fly after all that hazzle, the following morning to France and she is still is still enjoying her short vacation there.

    Tilak

  4. Nanda Says:

    Positive aspect of this incident is ,despite being a “a sister of a very Senior Government Minister ” airline staff diligently did his duties. Another positive aspect is the passenger’s behaviour sounded excellent , she did not try to use her “POLITIKKO” powers at all.
    What the officer needed to check is VISA and validity of PASSPORT. However, who knows, government may have some additional checks ordered due forging of VISAS and PASSPORTS to safeguard the country against a variety of betrayers.

    Finally, all appears to be all good from Tilak’s final sentence “the worst being she was allowed to fly after all that hazzle, the following morning to France and she is still is still enjoying her short vacation there.” and I don’t understand why it is “worst”.
    My final conclusion is Tilak has a problem of explaining things and has an unnecessary high regard to famous people, I may be wrong.

  5. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    If other air lines do not follow similar harsh and strict visa checks, all Sri Lankan visitors should travel by other air lines to ensure trouble free travel to these destinations.We have also experienced similar incident when my son’s British passport was checked by an airline official a few years ago. I thought air line officials were trying to show off their authority by selecting only one member of the family when all four of our family members were travelling on British Passports. It is just a disgraceful behaviour of an individual who goes against the fundamental ethics of customer care.

  6. . Says:

    Tilak Fernando Says;
    Nanda, you are WRONG

  7. Nimal Says:

    I am glad this airline officer had done his given duty without a favour, irrespective of her high status. In the past our politicians have misused the diplomatic passports to enter a country. She perhaps now realizes what the normal Sri Lankan have to go through when wants to visit the Western countries. Strict visa regime is truly unjust to the third world people while the people in the West could go any where in the world.Politicans and high officials like her must put pressure on the western countries to relax their absurd visa rules on our citizens. She had the rare privilege of the intervention of the deputy HC of the British embassy. My heart goes to a wife of a British citizen who was not allowed to enter UK to attend her husband’s funeral.

  8. Nanda Says:

    Thanks Tilak, I appreciate your response but expected some explanation, how could she ” still enjoying her short vacation there ” when she could not attend the wedding. I am engineer, thanks to Bandaranayke and understand plain English only.

  9. . Says:

    Acceding to Nanda’s request
    Nanda, for a start, before some readers start to jump the gun, I must make it absolutely clear that she had not uttered a word about being a relation of a politician at the airport or throughout her flight on the next day. Had she done so, I guess, she would have easily sailed through without any problem! This is also an example what happens when one tries to follow the rules to the book like an ordinary citizen, I suppose.
    ‘Wedding’ label was added by me to emphasise the importance of her trip to France. She had not even known that I had written about her predicament in Colombo. I came to know about it from my wife who was already in Paris. My policy has always been to follow the adage: “ Facts are sacred , the comment is free, as such I have always exposed any injustices objectively calling spade a spade as much as giving due credit wherever it was due.
    We are all human and each one of us is entitled to one’s own opinion and to analyse in any form to make us feel good! But it does not help a victim in a desperate situation such as the one in discussion. This why it becomes more important for the airline staff to brief and educate their passengers in advance, may be at the time of purchasing airline tickets or attach an advice note to that effect . It becomes so vital because air travel is not a common feature among the majority of citizens in Sri Lanka.
    Once she had paid for the airline ticket, obtained her Shenegen visa and entry permit to the UK what else could she have done? Although she missed the occasion which she very much looked forward to, she was able to be there on the day after the wedding. As I understand, she is due to fly back via England, by killing two birds with one stone, since she has a British entry permit as well! And why not?
    When she was worried about getting her passport from Chennai in time, after the British Visa, it was one of her friends who had contacted the British High Commission in Colombo to mention about the inordinate delay, when appropriate and swift action had been taken by the British to enable her to take the intended flight. Let me make it absolutely clear that it was a straightforward case of an ordinary air passenger trying to follow the rule book like any other ordinary citizen and not as an official or a relative of a politico.
    A bit of personal experience from my own: Once an employee of the National Airline at Bandaranaike International airport wanted to photocopy my British Passport on my return to London after a holiday in Sri Lanka (before I obtained my dual nationality).
    Quite baffled, I wanted to know the reason behind his attempt. His answer was: ‘ We have been asked to photocopy all Sri Lankan passengers’ passports who travel to London” . Somewhat heated up I wanted him to have a good glance at my passport and see whether it was a Sri Lankan or a British passport. His response was a sly smile with single sentence: “…but you look Sri Lankan no” !
    This goes to show that you can’t will them all. From time to time in our life we come across foolish, senseless idiots as well in form of the airline guy who harassed me. He was later exposed by me in the national newspapers as “ A Rotten Apple “ in the airline.
    Tilak

  10. douglas Says:

    Dr. Thilak: I am the one who made the first comment on your presentation. No doubt, as you say in your last comment: “My policy has always been to follow the adage”. This whole story, in your own words: “I came to know about it from my wife”. Also it is interesting to note your statement:” She had not known that I had written about her predicament in Colombo”.

    So this is how “Some one told me” (of course you have to believe your wife). Still when you come on public forums, don’t you think you have to verify your information?. So, there there are quite a lot of “IFs” and “BUTs” and I would rather leave it at that.

    Still I fail to understand why people do not understand that merely in possession of a “Visa”; “Valid Passport”; “A return Ari Ticket”; “A Letter of Invitation” etc. would not GUARANTEE the intended travel to a country. There are so many checks that would be carried on before embarkation and even at the point of entry to the intended destination. I have seen even some who have gone through all those checks at the airport and seated in the designated seats, taken away by the authorized persons denying the journey. So you will see with all those strict checks and balances, still so many mishaps take place. That is why I said at the beginning how vulnerable air travel is, in today’s world. Did you not read the news of the two passengers who boarded the MH 370 with two stolen passports? In like manner there are very many roaming around the world with “Fake” and “Stolen Documents” and it would not be surprising to note that some of them are doing it with the full knowledge and sponsorship of Big countries in the world.

    So let us be AWARE and cooperate with the authorities. If is good and safe for all of us.

  11. Nanda Says:

    Thank you Tilak for further explanation AND WE ALL SHOULD BE PROUD OF this passenger by being shy to use her sibling’s power. ( who knows , she could be not in good terms with the bugger or better still the bugger himself might be a good man). My apology for the suspicion “unnecessary high regard to famous people”.
    Please keep writing with colour.

  12. veediyabandara Says:

    By reading the article and the replies followed, I just wonder whether ‘douglas’ is the real person in the airport that Tilak is referring to. Whoever the person is, it was an extremely high handed approach by the airline official as the article describes. Apparently the person did not have an iota common courtesy to assist the passenger in every possible way to make travel possible as intended. The reason I wanted to make a contribution here is that I had quite a contrasting experience at BIA some years ago. Reading this article, now I feel that I have been extremely fortunate on that day as I was traveling with Singapore Airlines and not with Sri Lankan Air. At the time I had a PR visa in another country which had expired without my knowledge during my stay in Sri Lanka. Everyone including my travel agent and immigration officers at both airports on my inward trip had somehow overlooked the deficiency. I was shocked to learn the status of my visa at the airline check-in-counter at BIA while trying to commence my return trip. While I was expecting the worst, a true angel from heaven; the ground officer of the airline quickly intervened. He immediately contacted the authorities in the country I reside, confirmed my residency status and notified the arriving airport of my visa status so that I can have a smooth re-entry. Thanks to his excellent Customer Service, I avoided a disastrous return trip. I guess that officer too was entitled to stop me from boarding his flight given the defect in my visa. Wasn’t that a glaring example of excellent Customer Service?

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