This is a rant, so don’t read any further if you don’t like rants.
I flew in last night on a Philippine Airlines flight from Cebu to Manila. The boeing 747 probably had upwards of 350 passengers and perhaps as many as 600+ pieces of checked in baggage. Between two passengers traveling together, we had three pieces of luggage–a box with 12 kilos of mangoes, a box with roughly 7 kilos of dried mangoes and chicharon, and my perfectly utilitarian, almost non-descript shoemart purchased roll-on bag that I always check-in. My small suitcase is black (as are roughly 70-80% of all suitcases globally), and does not draw attention to itself in any way. It has a discreet black leather name tag, which encloses my calling card with name and contact numbers, but no address for obvious security reasons. It is locked with a built in slide card key lock, and made with a matte, rather firm synthetic material. No drama, just your plain old vanilla suitcase purchased years ago. My suitcase was tagged in Cebu with a priority label because I fly the airline very often and have a premium frequent flyer card — so even if I buy cheap economy tickets, I get priority baggage handling. I also often get seats right by the exit door of the plane, so I almost always make it to the priority baggage belt along with the first half dozen or so passengers from the flight. In my 30+ years of flying with thousands of flights, I have never once lost a piece of luggage on a single point to point journey beacuse another passenger took it. I got a cart and waited patiently. I noticed roughly 6 people between me and the “window” where the bags first come in on the conveyor belt — I tend to stand at the first curve so I can see my luggage coming up. Roughly 3 people were clearly passengers, and were close enough to me that I am pretty sure I would have noticed what they put on their carts. The first three people on the line, closest to the luggage “window” did NOT appear to be passengers themselves, instead one was a PAL “outsourced” staff member in red shirt holding a sticker and madly searching for a “VIP’s” suitcase. Another two folks appeared to be lackeys, drivers or bodyguards of a large group of golfers accompanying a senator who stood nearby. In fairness to the senator, he actually pointed out his own suitcases and golf bag and they were placed on his cart, that he pushed himself.
But the half dozen or so other folks also with golf bags and with that air of “self-importance and pseudo VIP status” that comes and goes with prevailing winds stood around preening while two men pulled golf bags and luggage and “padala pasalubong packages” off the belts at a dizzying pace. They quickly loaded up carts and were whisked out quickly. Meanwhile, we spotted both of our boxes of mangoes and chicharon amongst the first dozen pieces to emerge and loaded them onto our cart. But no sign of my plain black suitcase. We waited patiently for another 15-20 minutes, and it was clear we were the last passengers at that carousel. My colleague went over to the other conveyor belt and checked there until all passengers left. And basically it was clear that my bag was nowhere to be found, but circling on the priority belt was one remaining black bag, a little bigger than mine, also black, but clearly quite different in style, material and lock from my suitcase. IT IS THE BAG IN THE FIRST THREE PHOTOS ABOVE. But I get ahead of myself. Whenever I see this sort of VIP spectacle at the priority baggage carousel, I heat up. First of all, it is ILLEGAL AND INAPPROPRIATE to have non-passengers enter the luggage area (except airline personnel, airport security and porters if any), and there were half a dozen guards at the exit doors to supposedly ensure this. So having drivers, bodyguards, flunkies, and even PAL staff get your baggage from the belt when they may have absolutely NO CLUE what it looks like is a potential security issue. Worse, PAL has cut costs and removed the “checkers” who always look at the bag tags to ensure you got the right bags. I dislike this tedious checking process, and it isn’t common elsewhere in the world, and I always assumed people should be responsible enough to get their own baggage…but the bottom line is, there is NOTHING to stop you from leaving the baggage area with someone else’s luggage. And with the doors so porous, clearly any self-important acting Juan, Procopio and Boy can make it into the area. So my bag was missing. Now the PAL folks get involved. Or more accurately, scurry around looking busy but do nothing to help other than say it looks like my bag is lost, or someone else has taken it. I confront them with the scene at the luggage carousel and ask why there were PAL personel and non-passengers there and that that was the likely cause of the missing bag. They shrug. Finally, after pointless discussions and futile efforts to get any service, I take matters into my own hands…
This is a photo of my bag. It is black like the one above, but it is quite different. I grabbed the last bag on the carousel, went to the PAL counter, gave them the luggage tag number with passenger name and told them to call the passenger and see if he had my suitcase. In ten minutes, they couldn’t figure out his number from their computer (probably off for all I know), and were unable to call him. So I left my name and address and phone number and told them to DELIVER my bag that evening if possible. I then took the remaining bag to hold it hostage and told them I was bringing it home and would only return it if my bag were first returned to me. Believe it or not, not a word out of them!! Frankly, I should NOT have been allowed to take this suitcase, but they didn’t raise any objection, so I did. I now had the name, telephone number and bag of the likely, but not certain, culprit.
There are only so many plausible explanations for why the person took my bag, most likely, by mistake, and NOT INTENTIONALLY:
1. They were “distracted, absent-minded, careless, irresponsible or stupid” — take your pick. They pulled the wrong suitcase off, thought it was theirs, didn’t bother to check the name tag or their baggage tag and rushed out. But because there were only 6 people between me and the place the bags came out, then there was a 99% chance that one of those 6 were the culprit. And I would bet my weekly paycheck if I had one that it wasn’t any of the three passengers closest to me… or at least that was my best hypothesis.
2. The bag did NOT come out at the priority belt and was picked up on another belt, but the adjectives above would still apply.
3. The person who pulled the bag off the conveyor belt WAS NOT the passenger himself, and they didn’t bother to check their luggage tags, and the mistake would only be discovered later at home or after they were called by PAL staff. In this case, the adjective that comes to my mind (unless the passenger were blind, handicapped, very elderly, in a wheelchair, suffering from a medical condition heretofore known as baggage-pulling-titis ) would simply be an “asshole”.
I rushed to a dinner appointment, now 30 minutes late, sent my “hostaged” black duffel suitcase home and told staff to release it only if PAL staff first dropped off my luggage. Thankfully, three hours later, when I returned home, my suitcase had been delivered. The crew said that it wasn’t PAL personnel who came, but the driver of the owner whose bag I had held pending return of my own suitcase. The driver couldn’t understand how the switch could have happened as the bags were so different, and he left with his employers suitcase. I was happy it ended well. But now pissed off again when I realized that PAL had given away my address so carelessly (a breach of security on their part) and worse, they weren’t the ones who arranged delivery, they merely prevailed on the driver to come to our house to spare them the hassle.
So which one of the reasons applied in this case? I will never know, nor do I really care. But if it was reason 1 or 2 above, then any DECENT PERSON would have the presence of mind to send a simple note or text or ring me up to offer an apology, say something along these lines “I am sorry for the inconvenience caused by my mistakenly taking your bag…” or something to that effect… how hard is it to do that??? And it would have completely mollified me.
So I guess, if the person didn’t have the manners or presence of mind to do that, then in my book, it doesn’t matter what the reason was, he was simply an asshole. And yes, I kept his name, address and telephone number.
And had my 7 kilo suitcase been lost for good, would you like to take a guess what PAL’s “liability” would be for the lost bag? After much paperwork and effort, they would only be legally liable to reimburse me for PHP280 or roughly $6.50!!! But more on that outrageous discovery on my next post.
P.S. With evil grin, what did I tell the PAL folks I would do if my bag was not returned? I would open up the suitcase I had, photograph all its contents, including any dirty underwear, and publish it in a post on marketmanila along with the details on the identification cards on the piece of luggage. Thank God it didn’t get to that, airing dirty laundry can be so distasteful, don’t you think??? Evil grin. :)