Before I suddenly found myself in a remote prison in Cambodia, I was kidnapped. Not by a confused man, not by ISIS but back in 2016 by a company, an airline company; and even worse: one of the highest-rated airline businesses in the world, Qatar Airways.
To put nice things first: I always had excellent experiences with Qatar. It is a very convenient airline. The crew is very professional and friendly; the business class is amazing, and even the economy class is rather good compared to European airline companies with chairs with at least 10cm more leg space.
At the beginning of April, I booked a flight from Phnom Penh to Amsterdam. Let me explain about this flight: it stops in Ho Chi Minh and Doha. In the latter, I have to change airplane to fly to Amsterdam. And early May I booked a flight back along the same route. However, I wanted to change my arrival city. Not a big deal, so I thought. Because of a business issue, I needed to be first in Vietnam before going to Cambodia, so I decided to get out in Ho Chi Minh and not fulfill my flight till the end. I arranged a week before a visa with the Vietnamese authorities so I was allowed to enter Vietnam on May 5.
At Schiphol Amsterdam, I instructed the friendly ground crew about my change of schedule. She was more than happy to help me, but her system didn’t allow her to change my luggage destination from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh. She asked for assistance and this -also friendly- staff member came with the solution: don’t change anything. Just inform the Qatar staff member who opens the plane door that I went off in Ho Chi Minh, and he would be forced to find my luggage (which they labeled priority) because according to Qatar policy luggage cannot travel without the passenger.
So far so good. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh and found the corresponding staff member. And here it went totally wrong. First, he accused me of lying because I didn’t note the name of the Qatar colleague in Amsterdam. And then he turned things upside down: I could not leave the airplane and enter Vietnam because my luggage had the final destination of Phnom Penh and I had to follow my luggage instead of the other way around. I refused. I showed him the visa papers I got and asked him to let me talk to an immigration officer. I wanted to ask if I had permission to enter Vietnam today but the Qatar staff refused me five times to let me speak directly to Immigration.
He even threatened to fly me back to Doha and accused me of lying. I was not only victim of a bizarre situation; technically I was kidnapped. I wanted to get off and enter Vietnam (and therefore force Qatar Airways to unload my luggage because according to the explanation of the ground personnel in Amsterdam: the luggage has to follow the passenger), but I was held against my will. In the end, he called security to force me to go back to the airplane, twenty meters away. And I was compelled to stay on the plane until I landed in Phnom Penh. The same day I took a flight back to Ho Chi Minh… with Cambodia Angkor Air.
Despite being held hostage for a short time, I still consider Qatar airlines a rather good airline with usually good service. But maybe this is what they call the Stockholm Syndrom: feeling sympathy for your kidnapper.