In two decades of travel, I've never encountered it but 2017 was the year that changed it all! I experienced one of the worst feelings as a traveler!!!
Let me explain how the day started . . . my first flight was starting off a bit rocky from St. Louis to Atlanta but I managed to keep a positive attitude. Trouble issuing my tickets, changed seats that I carefully selected months ago, overbooked flight, not enough storage for everyone's luggage on board, pushy people, etc. I always say that you can see someone's true colors when they travel. And those colors are not the colorful Rainbow-Brite kind. The dark side is definitely strong at some gates.
I had a total of three flights over a period of nearly 24 hours of travel to get to Tunisia. And I'm pretty confident in my prep and packing process due to my 20+ years of international travel experience. My carry-on (which feels like a ton of bricks and ALWAYS surprises the man or flight attendant that offers to help me put it up) is packed with the most important items in case all my checked luggage gets lost along the way: deoderant, a few days of clothes, hard drives, camera equipment, tooth brush, etc. So, if I loose that one black bag with two brightly colored ribbons on it and a name tag, I'm truly at a loss!
Well, because their was nearly "no room in the inn" to stow my bag away and there was NO WAY I was checking it to my final destination, I decided to break the rules and I took the first and last empty spot I saw - in first class!
Simmer down! I know that is setting a bad example of other moms and travelers around the world and my rebellion should have consequences . . . but come on! The expensive seats were filled and I wasn't going to Africa without my extra pair of underwear and Snickers!
So, back I went to seat 28F with my bag safely put away with the two brightly colored ribbons and name tag clearly showing. How could anyone mistake their bag with mine? Ummmm, yeah....they did!
I was one of the last people to get off the plane and I saw one bag left...a black one but no ribbons. No name tag. And oh so much lighter!!!! I quickly told the flight attendant who told me to tell the gate attendant who obviously wasn't feeling the same urgency as me. Nice but not quick on his feet...or butt where he sat. He announced my dilemma on the airport intercom at the Atlanta International Airport. Which to me, basically sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wah Wah Wah". Useless! You might as well wrote a message in the sky.
I tried not to panic but the most important things to this photojournalism trip and to my life were in that bag (laptop, hard drive with saved work...and don't forget that Snickers!). The captain came off the plane and said that I should always keep my bag close to where I'm sitting. Really sir? That's what you're going to tell me right now? It was either put it in that open spot or not see it for the next 20 hours until it hopefully showed up thousands of miles away.
The black leftover bag was brought off the plane and the gate attendant called a supervisor to come open it. Again...really? You need special training to unzip the bag? At that moment, the sarcasm in my head was running rampid but I was still holding it together. They were just doing their job. This bag had no name and inside was folded up dry cleaning. You know how we found out the owner? The dry cleaning tag!!!!!!
I tell you all these details because of the miraculous outcome. They looked up the man's name and told me he was headed to Paris. That's right . . . of all the hundreds of connections in that huge airport, he was going to the same place as me . . . on the EXACT SAME FLIGHT. They called that gate to let them know I was coming and gave me permission to take this man's luggage to the next flight. Ummm....isn't there a rule about not handling other people's luggage? But a supervisor had to be called to the gate to unzip it?
The next scene is straight from the movie Home Alone. I was running through the airport because I only had thirty minutes to take a shuttle to another terminal, rebook my seat (which the airline messed up), find my luggage and get dinner. I hopped on the shuttle and guess what...the doors wouldn't close because someone in a car was standing too close to the door. Oh! My! Word! As I'm standing there, I decided to take my phone out to text my husband this drama and to my surprise I get a call. I didn't know the number but I answered it anyway.
"Jessica? Hi, I think I have your bag." With the little breath I had left, I explained I would be there in a few minutes (hopefully, if someone would realize they need to keep all "hands and feet insides the vehicle").
That poor man. We switched bags and I cut the conversation short since I had all the other things I needed to do. I knew he felt bad. I got my seat switched but never got dinner. BUT . . . I had my bag.
When I landed in Paris after the 8+ hour flight with my French NASA worker neighbor, I decided to write this story. I am now sitting here in the Paris airport decompressing, watching the colorful people pass by and listening to numerous unique languages as I wait for my last flight of this journey to Africa. To say this trip has been adventurous so far would be an understatement. I thought I was going to lose my mind at times but thankfully I can say that I am sane and with bag in tow (the correct one!).
Here’s what I know. Losing control does not solve the problem. In fact, many times being irrational, overly emotional, and not staying calm makes situations worse. It elevates it. Don't give up when things get tough. When you think you can’t take anymore, use the philosophy from the great blue fish. “Just keep swimming.” – Dory
Or in this case, just keep flying.