Lessons learned by a seasoned traveler on a terrible return trip

November 30, 2017 Published by
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Even as a seasoned traveler I learned some travel tips about how to handle your luggage from a recent bad flight home. I wanted to share them all with you, but first, you have to understand the complicated situation, how this never happens to me, and the overall debacle of this international adventure. 

Unexpected upheaval on the way home

I was really tuckered out after a month-long stay visiting my family in California and was looking forward to an easy flight home to Guatemala. Billy (that angel of mine!) was waiting for me in Antigua and he had arranged for our private driver to meet me at the Guatemala City airport and bring me to our hotel.

Traffic was smooth riding over Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to San Jose Airport and I arrived in plenty of time to go through TSA pre-check security and catch my flight. Everything was going as I expected.

Just a moment please

I didn’t even blink twice when the airline pilot said we would need repairs done to the fuel gauge before we left the hanger. I figured he’d pick up any extra time we needed while in the air. I had a tight 40-minute connection in Dallas that would take me to my next flight to Guatemala City, but I tried not to stress about it.

The captain again came on the intercom to tell us that the fuel gauge had been repaired and that we’d be on our way…Except he didn’t say that. What? Wait a moment, what did I just hear?

Dallas had requested at least an hour grounding of all planes – nothing and no one was leaving or arriving in Dallas Fort Worth airport due to a major storm and flooding.

I confidently pushed the service button above my seat, anticipating a flight attendant would come and answer questions about my connecting flight to Guatemala. Oddly, no one was coming to my seat as they all disappeared into the back of the plane.

A woman next to me suggested I prepare to deboard the plane. “You’ll probably have to reschedule your flight,” she said to me matter-of-factly.

Chaos and confusion

A sinking feeling came over me as visions of Billy waiting in Antigua and my driver waiting in Guatemala City flashed across my mind. I wondered how this was going to play out. I tried to maintain my peace of mind.

I made my way to the back of the plane where the flight attendants seemingly were hiding from the passengers. That couldn’t be true… Could it? Asking what I needed to do about my connecting flight, the attendant responded in a high, shrill voice, much louder than I had expected someone in charge to speak to me.

“YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK WITH A TRAVEL AGENT ABOUT THIS. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT THAT THE PLANE IS GROUNDED!!”

I struggled up the crowded aisle of the plane to the front where there was a line to speak to a flight attendant, but no one was moving.

I couldn’t believe how quickly things drifted from order into chaos.

I noticed that the pilots in the cockpit were looking over charts and maps laid out between them and another flight attendant was asking over the intercom for everyone to remain seated.

I quickly realized that even if we left this moment I had already missed my connection.

More obstruction

The line to speak with an agent wasn’t moving. Someone in the front was speaking very loudly about missing a connecting flight and monopolizing the agent’s time. Her urgent needs took precedence over the increasingly long line of those waiting for service.

People continued to back up behind me with still only one agent working. Another man going to Guate City had rescheduled himself by using his smart phone and he was going through Miami. He suggested that I might do the same.

I felt like a digital dumph. How did he do that? Oh Gawd. I needed to speak with a real human being and quickly.

Conflicting instructions

The instructions from the flight attendant at the front of the plane varied from moment to moment. Yes, get off the plane and reschedule. No, stay on the plane and stay overnight in Dallas. No, we don’t compensate you for your room, that’s on your dime. Yes, you must get off the plane now, as everyone is getting off the plane, we aren’t going anywhere, we are canceled. Bags will be returned to baggage claim. If you do get off the plane, we can’t guarantee that you can get back on. If you want to reschedule you’ll need to get off the plane. Maybe you should stay on the plane.

After witnessing one patron monopolize the time of the agent I decided I had better get off the plane before the full flight deboarded. Or else I could be here all night rescheduling myself to my destination.

It’s all your attitude

Why is this bedlam happening? This kind of stuff never happens to me!

Everything always runs smoothly for me, because that’s what I tell myself, and that’s what I tune into. It’s what I look for and that’s the wave I ride… yet here I am at the airline gate rescheduling myself – and my bag is still on the plane.

I was confused. This is not how my life normally goes.

The next thing I know there’s a flurry at the gate, and we are told that the plane is leaving in 5 minutes. Get on the plane or your bag leaves without you.

Oh No!! My bag goes to Guatemala City in Central America? Without me?

In my mind, I see a ravished bag, devoid of contents as I arrive in an international city. I freeze in place for a moment, mentally let go of my bag that’s on the plane and speak with the travel agent facing me at the desk.

I get myself rescheduled for two days later, and head on to the baggage security desk to make a claim about my now orphaned bag.

We make arrangements for my bag to be collected in Dallas and flown back to San Jose, where I’ll pick it up two days later when I come to board the plane on Thursday.

Luggage, luggage, who has the luggage?

Over the next two days, I call the baggage claim several times to be assured about the location of my bag only to find that it has already been flown to Central America.

Arriving Thursday morning at the airport before the Baggage Security Office opened, I prepare myself to have the necessary documents or claim numbers to show that I own this particular bag, once I arrive in Guatemala City. This security agent shows me the computer screen that tracks my bag and promises that my bag has been received and scanned at the airport in Guate City.

After a long and uneventful flight, I arrive in the big city, go through Immigration and Customs and then begin to ask around for the Baggage Security Office. Finding my driver waiting for me outside the International Arrivals doors, I enlist him to help me find my luggage.

Everyone I asked had a different idea. Go across the street, go upstairs, go downstairs, go back across the street, go to this office and then that one. Finally, I am at a desk in a dark corner where a young woman with a distanced attitude tells me to wait here until another agent arrives. It was no longer than a moment when another humorless woman meets me at the desk and tells me she has not seen or heard of this bag. It’s not here. If it were here, she would know about it.

I remembered the computer screen that morning which showed me my bag had arrived and had been scanned. It was here, I kept telling the agent.

That’s impossible, the agent says, but we’ll see. Come with me. You cannot take anything with you. These are our security instructions. You can have nothing with you. Leave your passport at this desk.

Digitally and financially naked

I hesitate for just a moment as I realized that I had my credit cards and my birth certificate in my daypack. There was all my money; I had new solid state hard drives, new SD cards, memory cards for computers, my smart phone, camera, my thumb drive, and every other digital gadget I owned, along with personal medication that I take on a regular basis.

In a second, I whirl around again to Hernan and give him all my cash, all my digital equipment, and all my IDs. I say to him, “Wait here. Don’t move. I’m going to get my bag.”

Following this woman into the baggage retrieval area I felt digitally and financially naked. I hadn’t a cent or piece of identification to my name and I was in a foreign country. I had just given everything of substantial value to my driver.

If my driver were unreliable this would be a thief’s dream come true.

My luggage was not on the carousel and I looked around the desolate and dimly lit area. It had been an hour since I began this luggage search and nothing much had moved forward.

I was mystified as this was definitely not the norm for me but chose not to panic.

Eyes darting around the gloom of the room, I finally see a young man rolling what looked to be my bag. Rushing up to him, I verify (along with all the scanning information) that it was my luggage and now I needed to return to customs and go through the X-ray machine.

I had forgotten that in exchange for all my gear and passport, the emotionally cool young woman gave me an airport ID badge that was clipped to my blouse. Relief and confusion must have been all over my face as I was led to the security machine. People were smiling now, and a man helped me lift my heavy bag onto the moving belt. I was in pleasant shock as I realized that the flimsy lock I placed on the zipper was still intact. I was almost giddy with relief.

Breezing through security I find my way back to Hernan, who, thank God, had not abandoned me. I return the airport ID badge and collect my passport and other gear. We get into the taxi and I am finally actually on my way home.

Travel tips to take away from this experience

  • Always carry your necessary medications with you in case you get separated from your luggage.
  • Pack the items of most value (digital equipment) with you to carry on the plane. Do not place in your checked-in bag.
  • Put an ID and a little extra cash in a pocket so at least you have proof of who you are, and some cash in case you need a meal, or to pay for transport or hotel until things settle down. If Hernan would have betrayed me and left with my gear, I would have had nothing.
  • Do not let go of your baggage claim tag even if you are rescheduling your flight and you get a new print-out. Get a tracking number for your gear.

About the Authors

Akaisha Kaderli and her husband, Billy are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism, and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award-winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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