Niagra Falls....Baffalo airport
The hang over of viewing four or five bright rainbows across the Niagra falls against the morning sun on that day was not over when we reached the Buffalo airport in early afternoon. Not- so- good lunch we had from the local Indian restaurant- why most of Indian tourists eat only Indian food anywhere in the world is another strange matter-did not kill the enthusiasm I had in my mind to reach Orlando,Florida the land of fun,show business and theme parks in the world, prelude to our onward journey of 3 days in a large cruiser to Bahamas.
Exclusive counters of Delta Airlines at the airport were busy but seemed to be in order although the lady at the counter where we queued put up a 'I-don't-want-to be- friendly' face.We were asked to place the suitcases on the weighing scales - one after another.Boarding passes/baggage tag counter foils were issued.The flight had a stop over at Atlanta(ATL) before we catch another flight of the same airline to proceed to Orlando(MCO). In such situations esp where stop overs are there my past experience in international circuits has made me to be cautious. Always I ensure that the baggage tags placed over the suitcases by them is in order.The lady was taking some assistance it seems from the man at the next counter for the print out of baggage tags. I could not see what they had put on my suitcase as it was away form my eye sight but could see Geetha's which was perfect.
We went and sat on nearby chairs rechecking the flight details and gate to be boarded. I could notice that what they had given me was a wrong baggage counterfoil. My name was there but flight details were different. I ran to the tour coordinator and then to the counter and brought to lady's notice what they had done giving back the counter foil. She looked at it for a moment and said "Oh" and fished out another counter foil from her table top which had all the info correct and handed over to me.I had asked her politely"Is everything in place ?"'Sure, as you can see in this counterfoil" She replied without looking at my face.Yes,the counter foil was alright.My doubt was put at rest finally.
Orlando airport....from 'swap tag' to 'swap bag'..
We had a pleasant flight to Orlando. We walked to the belt where all the baggage would be coming. Baggage started coming in no time but mine was outstanding. Finally belt No. 32 came to a halt after bringing out all the baggage which the other passengers had collected. One lady came and took out 5 baggage left in the belt but placed the same near, apparently unclaimed. Mine was still missing in that either.My fear of a loss of my baggage came to be real! It was 10.00 PM local time.I was cursing silently the unfriendly girl at the counter at Buffalo esp since I had brought this matter to her attention!
I rushed to the Lost Baggage counter which was close by. An elderly polite lady was at the desk. She took out the counter foil from me and walked to a machine with a monitor. As soon as she scanned the counter foil the screen showed that it had reached belt 32. I was happy. She politely asked me to go to the belt once again and check. My happiness was short lived.I could not find my suitcase again. I went to the lady and explained. She asked one of her assistants to do what I had done. She came back and reported the same. The old lady said "It seems to be a SWAP TAG case". She asked me to wait for few minutes as she had to attend to few other passengers.
Instead of waiting there, I went back again to the belt. Since her scanned machine monitor had recorded that my suitcase has reached the belt no.32, I was wondering what might have happened in between, as I walked. Five baggage still remained unclaimed near the belt but not mine. For some strange reason ,I checked tags of each and found out that one large bag which was not mine had my tag on it! I was cursing the unfriendly lady at the counter at Buffalo once again.It seemed she screwed up cases of 5 passengers!!All others seemed to be domestic passengers from the 'look' of the baggage but poor me, that's not the case.
The old polite lady rushed to the spot once I told her what had happened to verify herself. She said it is not a Swap Tag case anymore as she thought but a SWAP BAG case !! Yes, she taught me to differentiate between a swap bag and swap tag on that day and time!! She took me to another desk and told her "Please register a case for him" and left.It was 10.30 PM.I looked at the fellow passengers.All looked tired but patiently waiting for me to complete the formalities.
Another polite lady at the registration counter. I would repeat the question and answer session we had in verbatim which she recorded in the computer.
"What is the brand name of the suitcase?"
"What size and colour?"
"Medium size and deep blue colour."
"What it contains?"
"Mainly my clothes."
"How many trousers and shirts?"
"8 trousers including 1 jeans and 14 shirts"
"Is this all branded?"
"Yes; it is."
"Trousers are Raymonds. Shirts are mostly either Lacoste or Tommy Hilfiger."
"Is there any valuables?"
"No. But I have an I pad."
"Is there anything in particularly noticeable in the suitcase in case we scan?"
"Yes; one bottle of Indian whisky. " She smiled hearing this but asked to mention the brand name.
"Undergarments,socks, a pair of Crocs floaters etc"
Once she finished with the questions, she noted down my final destination and permanent address in India.
Then I narrated to her the experience I had at Buffalo airport.I told what I had in mind then."The girl at the counter was rude and impolite and in spite I brought up my doubt of a wrong bag tag she did not take corrective steps.Now see the mess I am in. I came to your country for holidaying and just because of a wrong person at the counter I will have nightmares now".
The lady profusely apologized. She said "Sorry to hear about the lady at the counter. In fact we are trained to be polite to passengers. I apologize once again for the inconvenience."
She answered me that I can claim for any purchases which are absolutely essential I make till I receive the suitcase subject to rules and handed over a small folder with a file number-MCODL16305. 'This folder has all the details how to proceed further in the matter.Contact details, how to claim etc.You can also call our toll free number or visit the website to know the status of the baggage".She summed up.Then she handed over a small kit.This was a kit of basic toiletries for a man.
I asked her."Please be frank.From your experience how many days it may take to find my suit case?" "To be honest to you Sir, being a swap bag case which is rare it is difficult to locate unless the other passenger shows up". Again she apologized !
As we boarded a dedicated bus for the group to go to the hotel. my mind was active.For some reason I was cool and was planning how to face the situation!If the suitcase does not reach me within next two days we will be boarding a cruise liner which takes us to Bahamas and then after 3 days in the ship, we travel back to India via NYC!And everything I have is in that suitcase!! I had a chill in the heart but talked as casual as I could to Geetha and others.She was thanking God that it was not hers!She had a harrowing similar experience about 15 years back in a flight between Aberdeen and Rome!
My executive mind started working.Hoped for the best which is the next day but decided to prepare for the worst-I may not get back the suitcase while in US!I decided to purchase things essential for my survival for next two days.
Good news from Salt Lake City..
As soon as we got to our hotel and checked in to the room, we got out to find a store which was open at that time. It was wee hours the next morning. We found out one without long.Bought the only shirt of my size available.From a small store near the Indian restaurant where we had dinner on the way from airport, I had already bought few under garments, socks etc.Again while we were on tour in Disney World next day, picked up two T shirts as well.
Towards the evening I requested the tour co coordinator to give a call to the toll number given by Lost Baggage counter.The lady sounded sweet when she said"We have good news for you from Salt Lake City. Your baggage is identified there. We are finding ways to bring it to Orlando as early as possible".That was the time when I googled to learn more about that city and how far it is from Orlando. Rest was methodical. After three hours I was told that the suitcase will reach Orlando airport by night 10.30PM. They delivered it to my hotel early morning. Delta Airlines did not forget to attach a big flier on the suitcase which said-SORRY FOR THE DELAY CAUSED. I was definitely relieved but did not comfort me from the behaviour meted out by the rude lady at the counter at Buffalo! It seemed to me that Delta is very professional in dealing with missed/delayed baggage than preventing the misses!
picture... courtesy Delta Airlines