One thing I try not take for granted is the great relationship with my suitcase. It’s medium-sized, still attractive after years of travel, and never gets lost. It knows perfectly well where it belongs, and sees to it that it gets there.
On a recent flight, I had to carry extra notebooks, and got charged a high excess baggage fee. Since I was expecting this, I wasn’t shocked, and paid the fee with a minimum of grumbling. But on the return flight, by which time I’d handed out all the heavy materials, my bag was still two pounds over. Did I receive any discretionary consideration? No. I got charged exactly the same high fee that I’d paid for being twelve pounds over.
Well, that didn’t sit well. So I did complain. And en route to the airport for my next flight, I may even have gone so far as to rant to my cab driver. I tried to redeem myself during the final two minutes of the journey, but by then I’d enrolled him in a general complaint about the state of the airlines, travel, and baggage in general.
As it turned out, I was early for that next flight—a flight that was ultimately so delayed, that I was rerouted. The new flight wouldn’t leave for four hours, so I had a long stint at the airport. Would that mean there’d be plenty of time to reroute my bag so it flew with me? I asked, and was assured that yes, my bag would be on my new flight.
When I finally took the new flight, it was uneventful, until I landed at LAX. The baggage claim area was a madhouse, with seven flights worth of bags spewing forth and circling the carousel on which I looked—and looked—for my bag. After an hour, I knew something was amiss. The baggage handler looked it up on her computer. “Yup,” she confirmed. “It’s in Denver. It’ll arrive tomorrow.”
Well, the bag wasn’t lost, just delayed. And suddenly it hit me. I had slipped into taking many things for granted, and they were all about me. I would always have my bag (even if other people didn’t); I could complain as much as I wanted to about inconveniences to me (even though I judged others who complained); my valuable time was being wasted (and other people’s time wasn’t as valuable as mine).
This was a classic opportunity to shift from the head—where frustration and entitlement had a tendency to spin out of control—to the heart—where suddenly a whole new world of awareness opened. So I began to think about what it actually takes for a suitcase to journey from one city to another. According to the Department of Transportation Office of Aviation Enforcement, 476,941 baggage reports were filed by the 128,641,854 passengers who flew in the first quarter of 2011. According to United, one of the largest carriers in the world, each human hand that touches a bag costs the airline money. For this reason, the airline makes Herculean efforts to place the bag with the scanned tag on the right beltway in the first place, so that it’s routed properly and only has to be handled as it’s loaded and unloaded on its intended flights.
The following day, I drove back to LAX to pick up my bag. (The alternative was to wait for up to two more days for delivery. No thanks.) There it was, unharmed, waiting patiently to come home. I thanked the very courteous manager of the baggage department. As I settled the bag on the floor of the passenger side, I felt positively gleeful to have it back.
Before I headed onto the freeway, I patted its side. “Okay, I get it,” I said. “I learned my lesson. What about you?” Then I leaned close to hear what it might whisper.
“I was never lost,” my bag explained. “Just delayed until you could listen with your heart.”
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