You’d think that after flying on airplanes for 25 of my 30 years, I wouldn’t have so much to complain about.
I ventured down to Georgia this month to attend the wedding of my old buddy Scott. He and his fiancee were planning a small ceremony and asked me to strum my guitar while they walked down the aisle. So I lugged my hard-shelled guitar case and suitcase up to the baggage check counter to entrust them to the care of the airline – at a fee of $40 for the two, mind you.
It’s a little scary to see my luggage whisked away on the conveyor like the trolley leading into Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I’ve lost my luggage before, and you never know what could happen. Did I really want to be reduced to playing musical spoons while wearing 3-day-old clothes during the wedding ceremony, wondering how my guitar and luggage got to Yugoslavia?
While I arrived in Atlanta on time, my luggage did not. My bags were coming in on Carousel 4 – along with bags from about 15 other flights. A crowd pushed its way forward, people trying to glimpse their luggage, grab it and get the heck away.
In that kind of situation, I’ve learned, you’ve got to be careful: a person who has just reclaimed his luggage can be dangerous, weilding an overstuffed suitcase like a wrecking ball.
The luggage pileup got so bad that at one point the conveyor was stopped, and we were asked to move all bags onto the floor behind us. So not only was I going to hope I didn’t miss my bags on their first loop around the conveyor, but also that they weren’t being trampled in a crush of people on the other side of the carousel. Awesome.
I finally got close enough to grab my bags if they actually appeared, which became more hopeless as an hour went by and the incoming flights on the screen gradually disappeared. Once my own flight left the screen, and none of my luggage had shown up, I knew something wasn’t right.
In the chaos I managed to snag a stressed airport employee, who directed me to airport purgatory: the baggage claim customer service line, which in this case stretched about 40 people long.
Thankfully, once I got to the counter I learned my clothing bag had just arrived at Carousel 4 – after taking another plane – and my guitar was at the over-sized luggage area. I was able to snag the bag quickly, but that was the good news. My relief at also finding my guitar sank when I saw the shell of the case cracked in several places, with large holes in other places. The guitar, fortunately, was unharmed. Since by now I was two hours late getting out of the airport, I didn’t stick around to complain, figuring I’d do that once I got home – and once my luggage and I had arrived safely on the return trip.
(Turns out, though, that I was supposed to report the damage within 24 hours of the flight, so there’s nothing the airline would do. Grrrrrr.)
I arrived at the bus stop outside the airport just in time to miss the shuttle from Atlanta to Macon, where Scott was due to pick me up. The next one thankfully arrived about 10 minutes later, and yet again I was in a large group of people moving like mice toward stale cheese. Once we were all aboard, the bus driver asked us three times for our destinations. Then he proceeded, once he climbed into his seat, to just sit at the wheel and talk.
“Let’s just GO,” several of us muttered, a mutiny starting to bubble.
Scott was a sight for sore eyes once we got to Macon, and since it was past midnight by now and I hadn’t eaten since lunch, we swung by one of Georgia’s 30,000 Waffle Houses, where the waitress, hearing our non-Southern accents, told us, “Y’all sound like damn Yankees.”
I laughed. Please, no hard feelings about the Civil War when you’re making my eggs, though.
I realized during this dinner/breakfast (dreckfast?) that I’d been in such a hurry to get out of there that I’d forgotten to pay the bus ticket. The ticket folks were shocked that I’d come back at all, since there was no way for them to track me, and they were surprised there were still honest people out there.
Honest? Sure. But karma also played in my choice. I’d already had a hard enough time in Georgia, and I figured it wasn’t worth gipping anyone on my first day there.
I really didn’t want my luggage to wind up in Yugoslavia on the trip home.
Alex Lear covers Bath and Topsham for The Forecaster. He can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and acknowledges that a great destination can often be worth a challenging journey. Just sedate him first.