Friday, July 11, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Two: Without Any Baggage

I don't like flying anymore. It has long since lost its novelty and these days I feel more like a cow being transported to a slaughterhouse than someone going to or from a vacation and wanting the convenience of getting there in a timely manner. I've had my share of flight delays, missed flights and strandings in airports overnight but not once have I ever lost a bag. Mostly that has been because for work I never took enough to check a bag other than a small carry on but some of it has just been dumb luck. Well my luck finally ran out.

Our very first flight of three to the Philippines was delayed an hour so our leisurely layover in Dallas before getting on a flight to Japan turned out to be a mad sprint through the airport with my wife carrying our youngest daughter and one carry-on item and me herding our oldest and carrying the other two carry-on bags and the stroller. We just made final boarding but as we caught our breath in the cattle chutes they call airplane seats these days, I knew our baggage didn't have a chance.

Twelve hours later when we reached Japan and made it to our gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding, I asked the lady at the desk if she could tell me if my bags made it here. She typed into her computer and with halting English told me they had which surprised and elated me. Just a few minutes before boarding she tapped me on the shoulder and told me they actually were still sitting in Dallas. So as we flew our last leg of the journey to Manila, we were pondering our next move. You see in the Philippines where poverty and corruption are so prevalent, loosing a bag is almost a death sentence for it. It becomes a one stop shopping center for airport employees and anyone else that gets to handle it before you ever see it again, especially when it originated in the United State. You see because it is customary for returning Filippinos to bring pasalubong or gifts with them when they come back home and anyone from the U.S. is considered extraordinarily rich in their eyes, those bags are always worth checking out. Our were no exception since three of our five checked bags were packed full of things brought as gifts to pass out.

I wasn't too concerned with the gifts since all of them with the exception of my pens that I made could be easily replaced. I was concerned with the clothing situation for myself since being six feet two inches tall in a land where being five feet tall is considered a giant, I knew finding duds for myself wasn't going to be an easy task. In fact I remember on a previous trip when I needed to find an undershirt and a barong (native dress shirt made from coconut fibers) for a wedding, I spent hours in shops all over town until I found one undershirt that I could just barely squeeze into. The barong had to be hand made to fit me. So when we arrived in Manila and sure enough none of our bags decided to join us, I wasn't too thrilled.

We spent an hour with their lost baggage guy filing a claim and negotiating how we were going to get our luggage if ever again. Because at that point it was still in Dallas and needed to make two flights worth 16 hours of flight time to reach Manila, he wasn't sure when they would make it. We decided to make the five our van journey up into the mountains to our home in Baguio City anyway and hope that our bags would arrive in a few days. Until then, I was forced to wear the clothes I had been marinating in for the last 30 hours for a couple more days. I was able to find some underwear and a shirt (that advertised that it was an American size) to wear to get me buy but it wasn't pleasant. Our bags did eventually arrive and miracle of miracles, contained all their contents. Life was good.

On our return to the U.S., our flight out of Japan to Chicago was delayed 45 minutes and we were heading into one of the world's busiest airport and the shortest layover of all four layovers we had going and coming. We landed in Chicago with about an hour and a half to get through immigration, customs, go from the international terminal to the domestic terminal which meant going through TSA (or equivalent) security for the third time that day and find our flight. We just did with only minutes to spare so once again as I was flying the last leg of our flight, I couldn't help but wonder if our bags had made it. Because we had excess baggage from bring all the gifts to the Philippines, we filled them up with native Filipino wood work and kamagong wood to bring back home. As it turned out the kamagong wood was so dense and heavy that we even had to borrow a sixth bag to get everything home and remain under the 50 pound limit. Now all that would be lost yet again to the airline gods.

When we finally landed and made our way to baggage claim, the conveyor was just starting up and the third bag out was one of ours. Holy crap, it had actually made the flight I thought. A second and then a third one soon came out and I pulled them off the conveyor. Having learned the lessons from our outbound flights that we would never have time to actually use a baby stroller in an airport as we ran to catch flights, we had wisely checked the stroller in for our return flights and it came out too. We waited as bags came out and were claimed by various people and a couple who had apparently been away from each other groped and made out on the other side of the baggage carousel but the remaining three bags still never came out. Finally after seeing the same five bags go around for the third time, it was just down to us and a group of three middle eastern men waiting on bags and knowing that sometimes language barriers can make things take three times as long, I hastened over to the lost luggage desk ahead of them.

Dealing with lost luggage in America turns out to be a breeze. They scan the codes on the bags that did arrive, check them against your baggage claim receipt and enter the numbers of your lost bags into their system. They take down your address and a phone number and tell you they will be shipped the following day right to your door... and they were. There was no concern on my part about them being rummaged through and they weren't. They are finally unpacked and put away.

I have learned some valuable lessons this trip. Nearly half my flights were delayed and out of the four total connections we had, we had to literally run to catch the flight of three of them. Our average connection time was two hours but when dealing with international flights, customs and multiple security screenings, it is not enough time. Not only does it make you run to catch flights but it doesn't leave enough time for your bags to make it. Next time I think I am going to ship things via boat a couple months in advance and tell our booking agent that we need at least three hours between flights. I don't really want to try to find a shirt to wear in a land of short people ever again.


ErinFromIowa said...

Good grief. I haven't flown in years and after reading this I plan on continuing that trend.

roaring40 said...

I suppose there wouldn't be much call for direct flights from Iowa to Manilla. Actually I don't know where you'd have a large population outside SF or LA and perhaps a few tiny populations near naval and air bases. But surely those populations would've long dispersed throughout the 50. Ohhh, Hawaii. Is there direct flights from there.
On the luggage. Well, no kiddies. So one carry-on. Ergo, don't care. :-) Actually I would think travelling with kids you cannot threatened with dire consequences would be on the inner rings of Dante's hell. At least I can jamb in the buds and crank the volume.

Leigh said...

Ed, this is a great series of posts. Very interesting and very well written! I feel like I'm right there.

P.S. I don't like flying either!

Ed said...

Erin - If I had my druthers, I would drive everywhere too but in this case, that just isn't practical. I've learned to just relax and not worry about what I can't change when it comes to flying which is most everything. It helps that I'm also pretty low maintenance and don't need much to be comfortable when overseas.

Vince - There isn't a direct flight from the US. There is one from L.A. and also one from Vegas that is the same plane the entire trip but there is a refueling stop in Hawaii. When everything is figured in, it is just as quick to go the way we go through Japan and one less landing/takeoff cycle. Both our kids were great travelers though I was worried about the youngest one. They mostly slept on the longest 13 hour flight.

Leigh - I'm glad you like them. I have quite a few more in the works in various stages of being written. I find traveling to a third world country so completely foreign and utterly fascinating to me that I just can't help but writing about it.