Traveling for the holidays is like sleeping with an angry cobra. You don’t know exactly when it’s going to bite you, or why or how often or exactly how much it’s going to hurt..
But it’s going to bite you. Most probably in the ass. And who’s going to suck the poison out? Nobody, is who. Because that’s what you get for bedding down with killer snakes. And for Christmas travel.
I thought — naively — that I might be spared this year. Weather wasn’t an issue. My travel plans were simpler, what with my wife and I splitting family time this yuletide season. What could possibly go wrong?
On the way to my parents’ — nothing. I took one bag, carry-on size, and a laptop. I checked the bag, mostly because I had two small jars of honey I was bringing to my folks as a gift. We bought it on our recent trip to Germany, and that is not something I wanted to send through the X-ray machine, for several reasons.
For one thing, what happens when you send X-rays through honey? I don’t know. I’m not some sort of radioactive apiary expert. Maybe that shit would kill you; maybe it’d turn you into some kind of buzzing wax-sucking superhero. Either way, not something I need my parents eating over the holidays. They want to try some dubious irradiated sweets for Easter, that’s on them. I’m not going to be the one pulling the bumblebee trigger, is all I’m saying.
Besides that, the TSA would probably confiscate the stuff from a carry-on. It’s liquid, sort of. It’s animal product, or byproduct, or something. And it came from Germany. That can’t be good. Those guys find a shampoo bottle or a half-empty Coke can in your bag, they throw it away and give you a stern look. They find two petite jars of sticky yellow insect spit with foreign language labels, and you’re looking at a full cavity search somewhere in the depths of Guantanamo. So the bag, on the way out, was checked. Very, very checked.
On the way back, things were different. The honey was gone, safely un-X-rayed, wrapped and delivered. No other liquids in the bag. I even conveniently ran out of contact lens solution, which left me squinty and red — but also jazzed for my flight. Because I was going to get through a Christmas trip — in one direction, at least — without checking a bag.
I can’t stress enough how thrilling this was. When my wife and I holiday together, we always check bags. She packs her things into a suitcase roughly the size of an aboriginal fishing dugout canoe. I use the same bag I had on this trip — but if you’re checking one monstrous bag, then why bother keeping your others with you? You’ll be living at the baggage claim for the next three days anyway. Don’t be a hero, I say.
This year, though — different. So I strode through the airport, laptop bag and suitcase in hand, and happy to strip the pain of waiting for bags out of my return trip home. I had two flights in total — one from a tiny airport near my parents’ house down south to Charlotte, and after a two-hour layover, from Charlotte back to Boston.
(Never mind that North Carolina is approximately nine hundred miles out of the way. Nothing about Christmas goes directly from Point A to Point B. That would be too easy.)
So I strolled through the gate at Podunk Tri-County Airport, toward the puttering prop-powered puddlejumper waiting to take us to Charlotte. As sometimes happens with these model toy planes, the stewardess informed us that the overhead bins on the aircraft were really just for show. You might fit a wallet in there, or a book of matches, but otherwise, they were essentially useless. So we should leave our bags on a rack on the tarmac; they’d get loaded in the cargo hold and meet us in North Carolina. Fine.
I left my bag with a few others, and the dozen or so of us on the flight rode to Charlotte. Upon landing, we exited and found the crew unloading our bags from the hold. We waited for them to bring the suitcases over. And waited. And waited. And waited.
“All that stood between me and my precious suitcase was a few yards of asphalt, a bunch of luggage jockeys and some damned fool airline policy.”
Finally, a guy came by and said, ‘Oh hey — yeah, we’re not allowed to give you these bags. Airline policy.‘
This is not a thing I’d heard of. I’ve dropped bags on the tarmac before. They always show up afterward. Checking a bag sends it into baggage claim purgatory. Leaving it at the tarmac means getting it back on the next tarmac. That’s how it works.
Or rather, worked. These guys steadfastly refused to walk the bags over. We could see our bags. I stood there, staring mine down from thirty feet away. All that stood between me and my precious suitcase was a few yards of asphalt, a bunch of luggage jockeys and some damned fool airline policy.
I spent the next twenty minutes negotiating the release of my toothbrush and dirty underpants back into my custody. Finally, I talked to a sympathetic luggagemonger who went to get baggage tags for our stuff. He pulled me aside, asked me to point out my suitcase, and promised to tag it and send it over to baggage claim post haste.
Great, I said, and thanks, and I made the long trek into the concourse, through the hub, out the security door and over to baggage claim. Sure, it meant that I’d have to go through security — again — and I’d have to stand around waiting for my bag — again — but at least it’d be there fast. Like the guy said.
When I found the claim carousel, our flight number wasn’t one of the ‘active’ ones listed. Two cases were on the bag-go-round, neither of them mine, and a handful of travelers huddled around, waiting. Oddly, none were from my flight. This should have told me something. But I’m just not that bright when it comes to flying nonsense. Or angry cobras, apparently.
I waited by the carousel for forty-five minutes. A few bags slipped down the slide, but none were mine. And no one from my flight ever wandered by. I would have known — there were only a dozen of us. Not so hard to keep track. Finally, just about the time I figured I should hit up the lost and found to try explaining the issue, something happened. A wrinkle. A development. A bite.
The baggage carousel stopped. No more bags. Flights over. Kaput.
So I hit the lost and found, wondering how long this jibberjabber was going to take. My bag had no tag from the original airport — there was no indication it was intended for Boston. Some guy said he’d send it, and it never came. Did he tag it? Did he send it? Did he open it on the tarmac and dance around a pile of my sweaty worn boxers? No idea. But I feared the very worst.
I got twelve seconds into my spiel with the lost and found lady, when her eyes lit up and she gasped, ‘Are you Charlie?!‘
I was. And am. The guy by the plane had sent my bag straight to this lady, without actually saying that that’s the sort of thing he was planning to do. Maybe the rest of my flight got the message, and paraded through that place while I waited, wilting, by the carousel mere yards away. Don’t know. Frankly don’t care. She passed my bag over — after calling me by name; how often do you get that from a lost and found lady? — and I sped back through the security point and to my gate for the flight home. I made it with just minutes to spare — my two-hour layover mostly sucked up in waiting to retrieve a bag I didn’t check from a carousel it was never sent to, by a guy who failed to explain precisely how he was attempting to circumvent an airline policy.
Meh. At least I didn’t have German honey in the bag. That cobra bite in the ass could’ve been a lot worse. It could’ve included latex gloves.
Man, it’s good to be home.Permalink | No Comments