On a recent trip from Bangkok to Seoul, I was one of the first people off the plane at Incheon’s International Airport, breezed through immigration formalities, and then went to collect my baggage.
I just had one suitcase and a small one at that. I probably would have been better off carrying it onboard instead of checking it in—something I would soon regret.
By the time I got to the baggage carousel, the luggage from the flight I had taken was already coming up from the bowels of the airport’s baggage system and I waited for my suitcase. And I waited some more. By now, the carousel was crowded with most of the people who were on the same flight as I was and began to remove their luggage.
I waited some more.
Well, with most of the bags already removed it was going to easy to spot my suitcase, I thought.
The crowd began to dwindle, as did the bags still revolving on the carousel.
Then, I was the last passenger standing without a suitcase.
Great. My suitcase was lost.
In all the years I have been traveling—since 1976 when I flew for the first time—and the tens of thousands of miles I have flown since, my luggage has only been lost four times. I suppose given the statistics for lost or delayed baggage—around 10,000 bags daily from one industry statistic—and the amount of miles I have flown having my luggage lost only four times is a pretty good record.
I lost my first bag in 1977 on a flight from Miami to Panama when I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in the Canal Zone. It took about four days and a number of telephone calls (it was difficult trying to get an outside line from the barracks’ telephone to call the airport as well as finding someone who spoke enough passable English) to finally have my baggage delivered.
(I almost lost my luggage in 1978 flying from Chicago to California’s Ontario Airport. I say almost because first, my flight from Chicago was delayed on account of bad weather, and then when my flight was finally allowed to depart it was diverted to LAX because of fog at Ontario Airport. When I looked for my suitcase on the baggage carousel it wasn’t there. However, now get this, my suitcase had already arrived on an earlier flight and was in a holding area. Could never figure out how that happened.)
It would be 13 years later, this time flying from Seattle to Seoul when all my luggage was lost. Turned out that when I checked in at the Northwest Airlines’ counter at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport the baggage system was not operating and the bags had to be carried downstairs. There’s a good chance for baggage just begging to be lost. At least I wasn’t the only one looking stupefied and angry at Seoul’s Kimpo Airport 19 hours later when my luggage wasn’t there: three other passengers who left from Chicago were also without their luggage.
I arrived in Seoul on a Friday night and had to start work on Monday. When my luggage still hadn’t arrived by Sunday, I had to spend my first weekend in Seoul buying clothes—everything from pants, socks, shirts and underwear. Not an easy feat to do with limited Korean language skills and clothes not what you would say tailored for someone tall as me.
It took Northwest six days to finally get my luggage to me. There was never any apology and get this, the ground staff expected me to go back out to Kimpo to retrieve my luggage. They finally consented (after much pleading to bring it to the ELS Language School near Kangnam Subway Station after they refused to deliver it to my apartment in Chamsil) and I had to lug all my bags home on the subway that night. I have never flown on Northwest since.
In 1994, returning from the States to Seoul on Thai Airways, my suitcase never made it to the baggage carousel. Instead, it continued on the same Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. I guess, having traveled to Thailand so many times in the previous year, my suitcase just wanted to go where it was used to going—with or without me. I got it two days later.
Now, I was without my suitcase again. Well, this ought to be interesting I thought wondering how my suitcase was going to get to me down in Daejeon.
The Thai ground staff for handling lost baggage was friendly and helpful when I had to fill out the paperwork and blamed the mishap on the baggage system at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. I know there were a lot of problems with the automated baggage system when the airport opened last year with bags being lost and delayed and maybe it was just my time again to have my bags lost. The only real problem was when and how my suitcase was going to get to me in Daejeon. I knew that wasn’t going to be an easy task because where I live in Daejeon is not easy to find. I could give them my address and some landmark—a building for example—as a point of reference, but the address system, at least street addresses in Daejeon is not what it is like in Seoul.
I still had to catch an airport limousine to Seoul Station to take the KTX back to Daejeon and I was fortunate enough that I had allotted myself enough time to make it to Seoul Station in time.
“We’ll call you tomorrow,” said one of the Thai ground staff.
The next day I get my call. My bag had arrived. However, instead of dealing with the person I had dealt with the day before, I was now had to deal with someone else who spoke limited English and didn’t know where I lived. As it turned out, my bag had arrived on the same flight, but either someone had picked it up by mistake or it was loaded on the baggage carousel too late (I had waited until there were no more bags on the carousel the day before). The guy that I was talking to blamed me for not waiting longer. Gee, like how long was I supposed to wait?
Then, I had to deal with the delivery service that would bring my bag to Daejeon. First, I get a Korea woman screaming in the telephone about where to deliver my bag. Didn’t understand a word she said.
Then, I get another phone call from the delivery driver.
“Where do you live?”
Great. Now I have to explain all over again where I live.
I have only been in Daejeon for a few months and sadly my compass sense is not as good as it probably should be. All I could tell him was that I lived near the main gate of Woosong Technical College next to the dormitory. That was enough and finally, after I had to go outside and wait on the sidewalk the driver was able to find where I lived and deliver my bag.
I’m glad I got this most recent lost bag incident out of the way now. Now, I can relax and hope the statistics are in my favor for not having a bag lost or delayed the next couple of years.