After my luggage debacle in Cairo involving a lost checked bag, 2+ hours at the airport, and all the frustration that entailed, I decided to pack everything I needed for Luxembourg in a compact carry-on I’d borrowed from Jamie. I would not lose this bag. It would stay with me at all times.
This worked well until we arrived on the tarmac to board our flight to Paris on a LuxAir plane the size of an enlarged paper towel tube. Upon exiting the airport, a flight attendant slipped a luggage tag on my handle and I glanced up with mounting anxiety. Ahead, passengers were placing their luggage on a metal cart.
“What’s going on?”
“They’re going to make you put your bag under the plane,” Claire said.
“You don’t have a choice. Relax. It’s waiting on the tarmac when you come down the stairs.”
I wasn’t entirely convinced, but I put my case on the cart with the others, beside Claire’s. Everyone else was doing it, I reassured myself, so it must be fine. I felt semi-relieved until I turned and saw it: there, at the other end of the cart, was my case’s doppelganger. It was my case exactly, and equally indistinguishable, except for the fact that it was locked. Panic-stricken, I realized there was nothing I could do to prevent a mix-up and boarded the plane. Later, I would wish that I’d been clever and done something fast, like tie my sparkly bra around the handle. Instead, I prayed that my bag would be there when I got off the plane.
The locked twin sat unclaimed on the cart, waiting for its owner who was not coming. I vocalized my horror to Claire and Gretel through a series of gasps and grunts, until Claire said something in French to the waiting attendant.
“We have to chase him,” Claire said.
I did the only thing I could think to do. I grabbed the twin and sprinted toward the shuttles, thinking with concern that people running through airports often arouse suspicion or are sprinting after the love of their life to stop him or her from boarding a flight and being lost forever – much like my suitcase. It was pointless. We arrived at the shuttle station where people were being spirited off to their gates, to discover that he may or may not have headed off toward our terminal.
“It’s okay,” Claire said after a bout of French with the attendant. “She said to contact AirFrance at the terminal and they’ll make an announcement.”
“Ughh, I knew it,” I groaned as we waited. “I sat there the whole time and just kept thinking…he’s going to take the wrong bag. I know he’s going to take my bag.”
“It’s your fault!” Gretel exclaimed suddenly, much to my indignation.
“How is it my fault?”
“You Secret-ed him to take your bag! You put it out there in the universe.”
“Haven’t you read the Secret?”
“No, but I’ve heard about it. You wish hard enough for something and you get it, like money. It’s crap.”
“No, you just said you spent the whole forty minutes thinking he would take your bag, and he did.”
I sighed and mulled it over.
“Listen, he’s probably business class. He’s got his name on the tag,” Claire pointed out.
“He was sitting ahead of me,” Gretel added. “When I got off the plane, your bag was already gone.”
There wasn’t much to do while we were waiting apart from debate whether or not the thief was a man – we decided yes, as my case had been purchased by a man, and for some reason we all pictured a man in our heads – and discuss his potential whereabouts.
Still optimistic at this point, I imagined arriving at the AirFrance counter, frazzled, and turning to find a dashing man in a tailored suit approaching in mild panic, my case in hand, and laughing with him as we swapped cases and he bought me a gin and we’d tell our children all about how that silly mishap changed our lives. It had all the makings of a Sophie Kinsella novel.
Of course, it didn’t pan out like that. As soon as we got into the terminal, I watched Claire move from attendant to attendant, speaking in speedy French about some “probleme” and watching their identical reactions: wide eyes, cluck of the tongue, shrug. The way a person looks when they’re saying, “Oh, no! That really sucks! Tough luck.”
No one seemed to be able to do anything about it or make any kind of announcement. At this point, we had 30 minutes until boarding, and we were being shuffled out of the airport, into a new terminal, and down to AirFrance baggage control.
Again, Claire found herself face to face with an unhelpful AirFrance employee who wore a sour expression and shook her head helplessly when asked if she could track the case. I understood how it might be difficult for the other guy: my hand luggage tag had naught but a seat number. But his case, as it turned out, had his name. Surely it wouldn’t be so hard to type his name into the system and find out where he was.
Claire fired away at the disgruntled employee while I wondered with dismay where this man was. It was possible Paris was his final destination, and as we stood milling about with the AirFrance woman, he was rolling the case farther and farther away, not noticing that it wasn’t his. Here, I began to really panic. Why had I taken Jamie’s bag? What would I do? I’d have to buy him another case, and it would be expensive. I couldn’t bring this locked imposter on the airplane. What was so important that it had to be locked, anyway? What if he got home and realized he had the wrong bag and dropped mine off somewhere where it would wait in the dark, untraceable because it hadn’t been scanned into the system? What if – mounting panic – my case was auctioned off, like they do in the UK with bags that remain unclaimed for over a year? Sometimes they find valuables inside, like golden eggs. I wondered if his locked case contained some kind of jeweled egg. Or worse – what if I’d been inadvertently wheeling a ton of cocaine around the airport?
“It’s really not the airline’s responsibility,” I heard the woman tell Claire. Claire’s response was something sharp in French, while mine was a string of swear words. I’d like to report that I kept my cool like those airy, worldly types, those girls with the wild hair and the wrists braided with Buddhist bracelets, that “Namaste, the world will pass it on to someone less fortunate” attitude. But no. I cried.
Gretel proffered me Kleenex while Claire went at it in French.
Would they escort us to our flight, which was boarding now? No.
Would they call LuxAir? Look up this man in their system? No.
I’d been spending most of the time entertaining wild thoughts about my case and glancing at the doorway to see if an equally unsettled traveler was approaching with my case in tow, but by this point I had just about lost hope. Which is, of course, when a very unraveled-looking man in a wrinkled plaid shirt came bounding toward us, accompanied by a graceful AirFrance employee.
“Is this yours?” I blurted.
“Oh my God.” He stared at the case, then took it from me.
“We sent it up to your gate.”
A cheer went up from Claire and Gretel as they rose to gather their things, leaving the puzzled AirFrance employee halfway through some kind of report on the baggage. We followed the pleasant male employee and the thief out of baggage and to the front of the queues.
“I opened this in the Business lounge and I thought, ‘This is impossible,'” he told me apologetically. Impossible, no. But yes, I assume when he noticed the case was unlocked and contained a sparkly pink bra that he did not recall purchasing, he might have been somewhat taken aback. He and his case were bound for Shanghai with whatever was locked inside. (Based on the level of gratitude on his face when he saw it, I’m going with jewel-encrusted egg.)
“This is the difference between Economy and Business,” Claire said as we were whisked through the airport. “He probably just marched up to the desk and said, ‘Sort this out.'”
That man had tracked us down and sent my case to the correct gate with nothing but my seat number – all in the time it took us to barely begin filing a claim – and we had his name on the tag. He came to us with a printed copy of our flight details. I mean, come on. The gap between elite and economy shouldn’t be wide enough to swallow a bag. (Economy, shmeconomy. It felt more like steerage.)
“I’d like to think our persistence had something to do with it,” Claire told us over our ham sandwiches on the plane. It’s true. If she hadn’t pushed until the 11th hour to get something done, we probably wouldn’t have crossed paths with him.
“And hey, I got three stamps in my passport,” Gretel chimed in. Everybody wins.
So in the end, the universe returned my case, and Claire came out on top of the Lonely Planet by a landslide, because it helps to have someone who can say, “Someone took the wrong bag” rather than an LP favorite like, “My water just broke.”