TRAVEL THERE: WHEN BAGGAGE CLAIM FAIL TO DELIVER
You don’t really know what kind of vacation you’re going to have until you’ve been to baggage claim. There have only been two instances in my travels when my luggage went astray, but they were humdingers. This one was the worst.
Where’s the Wedding?
The first time my luggage went awry Bill and I were on our way to a wedding in Germany in 1994. We’d only been married for about a month. The bride was a flight attendant who was using her hard-earned comped flights to fly her guests to her wedding. Guests would converge on New York from all over the US. Limousines were engaged to fetch us from various airports and deliver us to JFK for a welcome party in a VIP lounge. Then en masse we were to fly to Frankfurt. All of this sounded much more glamorous than any itinerary I’d ever enjoyed.
Bill and I were to fly from Dallas to New York via a quick stop in Chicago to change planes. In Chicago our second flight was cancelled because of weather in New York. After a brief delay we were again en route, but we circled the Big Apple so many times the flight was diverted to Philadelphia for refueling. Philly was flooded with diverted flights, forcing the airport to open a terminal which was being remodeled. We were allowed off the plane, but everywhere we looked signs warned us we should have on hard hats and safety goggles.
We hadn’t eaten all day, but the terminal was under construction, so no vendors were operating. Eventually, someone showed up with a food cart and we forked over $9 for one dry hot dog and a warm can of soda. The line for the phone resembled a line for free Super Bowl tickets. Yes, we still depended on pay phones back then, but there had been no reason for the melee. We were there so long everyone on the plane could have phoned home in triplicate. When we got our turn, we checked our messages at home and heard from our bride that the weather was holding up outgoing flights, too.
Finally New York
Bill was already making noises about returning to Dallas, but I didn’t want to give up. The bride and groom had invited us to tag along with them on a holiday jaunt after the ceremony. How often do you get the chance to travel Germany with a native son? We re-boarded the flight and it began to taxi, but in the middle of take off, the pilot aborted. Night was coming and it began to rain. The delay was only moments, but in those few moments I lost hope and began to cry. When the plane lifted into the air, the event was anti-climatic.
New York may be a city that never sleeps, but after midnight, La Guardia has on its nightcap. A garment bag with our wedding finery arrived in baggage claim, but nothing else for us and little for anyone else. The baggage situation was so bad, the airline wasn’t even taking lost luggage claims. We were given a card with a number to call the next day. Our other piece of bad news was that our plane to Frankfurt, with all our friends on it, pulled away from the gate at JFK about three minutes after we landed at La Guardia.
Long Island Detour
There was drama involved in locating a hotel room and finding a cab driver to drive us to Long Island in the hours after midnight. Once we arrived, everything, even pizza delivery, was closed and the vending machines were broken, so we never did get anything to eat. However, thanks to several amazing miracles, by lunchtime we were at JFK with tickets to Amsterdam in our hands. Yes, Amsterdam, not Frankfurt, but it was as close as we could get with the bride’s comped tickets.
Grateful to have tickets across the ocean, we began to tackle the luggage issue. We knew we could replace what we needed in the way of clothes and toiletries in Germany, but we had another problem. We didn’t know where to go. From Frankfurt, the wedding party traveled to the groom’s hometown somewhere in Northwestern Germany. We didn’t have that address.
An invitation and a packet of information from the bride was packed away in our luggage, but our conversations with the luggage handlers hadn’t been very promising. Remember, this was 1994. We had mobile phones, but they only worked at home and there were certainly no smartphones. Laptop computers weren’t exactly household items either. We could have figured out a way to contact our friends if they were still in the US, but we didn’t have a clue about how to reach them in Germany.
Bill had the brilliant idea of calling the groom’s business, but the staff was less than forthcoming with information. We understood their security concerns. The groom was VP of US Operations for a German corporation. Because the groom’s secretary knew Bill personally, she did give him a telephone number, but that was as far as she was willing to go. We couldn’t call the number, because it was still the middle of the night there and since the bridal party had not arrived, no one at the house would speak English anyway.
It all boiled down to the luggage. We needed to get our hands on the bride’s itinerary. Bill laid down the law. If our luggage were returned to us before our flight to Amsterdam, we’d go on. If it wasn’t we were going back to Dallas. We continued the semi-hourly calls we’d been making to baggage claim all day. Finally, as the second of two very long days was turning to evening, we were told our luggage was on its way to JFK.
Imagine the glee we felt as I opened my suitcase. On top of everything else lay the precious envelope. Inside was a long list of activities, including explanations of German wedding traditions. There was a letter from the bride thanking us for being a part of her wedding. However, there was not one address or telephone number to be found. This hadn’t registered with us as we’d pored over the packet in Dallas. We thought we’d be with the bride and groom every step of the way. The last item in the envelope was a beautiful formal invitation etched in silver ink. Even as it occurred to me that the cathedral would be named on the invitation, I realized the curlicue font the bride had chosen rendered the words unreadable. We could make out the bride and groom’s name and the traditional wording, because we were familiar with it, but everything else appeared to be in an elaborate code.
Well, we’d gotten our luggage, but it hadn’t done us much good. We did fly to Amsterdam, but our travel woes were far from over. However, we did have our luggage so I’ll save the rest for another time. I hope you’ll take time to share your baggage claim woes with us in the comments.