There were only one or two bags left on the carousel at JFK, none of which belonged, as far as I could tell, to the three remaining passengers, one of which was me. “That’s all folks. Nothing left,” the burly baggage handler shouted. Three sets of shoulders slumped in unison. “You wanna see that guy in the hi-viz vest. He’ll tell you what you gotta do.”
The day had started quite well. I was happy to be flying business and that was what probably made me decide, against my better judgment, to check in my carry-on with my laptop. What could go wrong? It’s not as if I was transiting through Abuja, or even worse, Rome. I wanted to be unencumbered in the duty free area. Maybe I might even buy a new shirt for the conference I was attending. I could see my wife’s eyebrows arching at the thought.
As it was, a lengthy phone call put paid to a trip to Thomas Pink and it was straight on to the aircraft. The eight hours whizzed by and I remember thinking it literally was the only way to fly. I do remember also thinking, however, that it was all going too smoothly.
A Mr Sweeny, from Staten Island, was in front of me at the British Airways lost luggage desk at John F Kennedy. The clerk had clearly seen it all before and was a picture of calm as the irate passenger worked himself up into rage and frustration. “I just don’t believe it,” he said through gritted teeth, the veins on his head bulging.
“Who’s next?” A kindly woman motioned me to a desk. “Take a seat. I’ll need your baggage stub.” She entered details into a computer. “Michael Ramzi?” I nodded.
“OK, here’s what happens: I’m gonna take down your details and we’ll try to find your bag. In the meantime, I’m gonna give you some money.”
Ten minutes later and details given, she emerged from a back room with an envelope. “Here’s a credit card. It’s got $200. Get what you need. When we find your bag, we’ll send it to your hotel.”
Good deal. If the bag arrived that evening or even in the morning I’d go to Brooks Bros and treat myself to a shirt or even better, put the money towards a new trench coat. I was in New York, after all.
I went to dinner and got back to my hotel at 11pm. “Any news of my bag?” The clerk shook his head but assured me it would be sent straight up to my room when it arrived. I had a wash pack from the flight so no big worries there and so it was with only the mere hint of anxiety that I went to bed.
The next morning I logged on to the BA website and entered my code. My bag was still listed as “missing”. The clerk at the call centre assured me it should “normally” be found that day. Not having a laptop was by now beginning to bite. There are only so many emails you can reply to on an iPhone.
Time to spend the credit card on necessities – shirts (not Brooks Bros) underwear, socks etc. Should I buy a new blazer? Suppose the bag arrived. I decided to wait on that until just before the conference.
“I’m sorry sir,” the Gap sales “associate” said with ruthless nonchalance. “The card has not been authorised”. Try again please. She sighed. “Still not authorised sir. You got another card?”
On the phone to a BA representative, my smile was beginning to fade, especially after I was told to keep my receipts. “And give them to whom?” I wondered. To be fair he was quite apologetic but advised me I would have to take it up with BA at JFK. Could I have a number? He was sorry but he didn’t have one.
That was Friday. On Sunday, there was still no joy. Oh, and a bomb exploded two blocks from my hotel last night. The conference went well, even if I was I the only panellist without a jacket – they were very sympathetic. I wrote this on a grubby computer at the empty business centre at my hotel and I’m heading back to London later today with a small backpack full of dirty laundry and a toothbrush. I have no idea where my bag and laptop are. But if you’re interested, I’ll tell you what happens.
Michael Karam is a freelance writer who lives between Beirut and Brighton
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