And you thought Viktor Navorski was just a fairy tale…
Robert Wladyslaw Parzelski boarded a British Airways flight from London to Sao Paulo on 17 June with no return ticket and no money. His mission, which he would later tell authorities, was to pick up two phones for a friend. What kind of phones? Robert did not know. Where was he supposed to get them? Robert did not know. All Robert knew was he was supposed to meet a man at the airport. Did this man have a name, asked authorities? Robert did not know.
But Robert was not as dumb as he appeared, unless Brazilian border security let a bumbling foreigner bypass passport control and customs undetected. In any case, Robert managed to evade immigration authorities and found himself outside baggage claim in the arrivals hall. No one was waiting with phones…
And there was that small matter of having no money. So Robert stayed put, opting to make himself at home at the airport. A few days passed and airport cleaning staff, though apparently not any police or government authorities, noticed the same guy sleeping on a concrete bench. And they decided to take care of him.
Before he knew it, Robert was dubbed “the German” (the only words he mustered were “I’m Poland” in English) and enjoying food, cigarettes, and even vodka. Sound familiar?
But this was no movie set and without a friend working the catering trucks, Robert soon found himself cold and hungry. The authorities still did not know he was there or just elected to ignore him but a newspaper reporter began snooping around and soon Robert’s face hit the media.
Someone located a Polish doctor in Sao Paulo who could speak to Robert in his native tongue and he tried to cajole out of Robert an explanation for why exactly he was in Brazil. Something about a phone…
A visit to the Polish consulate and to a hospital did not reveal much so Robert, now sporting a long beard, was told his time in Brazil was fast coming to an end.
Somehow Swiss Air was assigned to take him back to Europe, but Robert made sure to enjoy a few ales and laughs with his new friends at the airport before stepping onto the flight.
Rumor has it that he’s camped out in a quiet corner of Zurich International Airport, trying to con his way into the Star Alliance Gold Lounge.
Seriously, I enjoy stories like this and I cannot say I am surprised this happened in Brazil. I was there in April and was amazed at how lax the security was. I was on my 40,000 mile mileage run and due to a mechanical delay the night before, my connection back to the States in Sao Paulo was only 45 minutes. Passengers do have to re-clear security when transiting, but I have to question what the point was.
The three agents were gabbing, my bag was never searched, and even though I set off the metal detector I was waved through with an indifferent hand gesture. Couple that with my own incursion into Brazil last year from Argentina and then again from Paraguay last summer and you will see that this story is not nearly as odd as it first seems.
As for living in airports, if I ever found myself out on the streets you can bet that would be the first place I would go. It depends on the airport, of course, but a large international airport like Zurich or Hong Kong would be perfect for spending a few weeks if in dire straits. Clean bathrooms, plenty of chairs to sleep on, and a wide variety of food choices: what more could you want? I suppose airports like Singapore, Muscat, or Tel Aviv would 24-hour lounges would be even better.
Wherever Robert ends up on his way back to England, he has got one heck of a good story to tell and in some small way I envy the experience he had.