Around the World in 80 Days

It’s a book. It’s a movie. It is the story of my suitcase.
That’s right. I left the Philippines on August 1st with an ominous remark from the lady behind the counter at Cebu’s Mactan International Airport. She said that I would have to pick up my bag at Haneda Airport before my transit on an ANA codeshare flight with United Airlines. I thought that was a strange thing to say. There was only an hour and a half layover and I would have to go through security again, as all flights headed to the US do, annoyingly enough. I would have to enter Japan to get my bag?! No way.
I checked the baggage tag and it said it was headed all the way to Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. She must be mistaken. I’m not entering Japan.
My Manila flight to Japan was very late. I was pretty sure I’d miss my connecting flight at Haneda and of course my bag wouldn’t make the flight either. Upon arrival at Haneda, they took myself and other passengers headed to DC quickly through security so that we could make our next flight. I was asked to check in at the counter at the gate. To my relief, that flight had also been delayed for almost 45 minutes. I tossed a coin. “Heads”. I always pick tails. I bet my bag won’t make it on this flight.
After the long haul to DC, and not being hassled by immigration for once (long story, but I regularly get detained for a moment each time I come into the US), I went to the baggage claim expecting a miracle to see my midnight green Samsonite suitcase that has traveled a million miles with me throughout the last 20 years. Miracles happen, but not on this day. I stood in line at United’s baggage counter and chatted with other passengers from my last two flights. Two others had also come from Manila and did see their bags. One of them, Ben,  was a colleague headed to the same conference I was!
We were all to attend our orientation for our next fellowship overseas at over 80 countries worldwide, representing the US Department of State as fellows in their English Language Program. Ben and I were not only colleagues now, but also tied to our destiny of only having the items in our carry-ons. We had even shared a bottle of wine to ease our misery one night and talked about the fantasies and horrors of living in PI.
I had packed particularly light and when offered a women’s large t-shirt with our programs logo on it, I took it and tried it on out of desperation for clothes during our conference, vainly hoping my suitcase would arrive at any moment. Ominously, the baggage guy was able to trace Ben’s suitcase in Haneda, but not mine. His still didn’t arrive however during our 3 day conference.
My parents picked me up in DC on our way to North Carolina for a vacation with them and my sister and her family. I bought a few more items to replace the ones still missing. After two weeks, it became apparent that my suitcase was not coming. United’s customer service suggested I file a lost bag report. I asked them what the difference was between what I had filed before, and what I was filing now. I discovered quickly that THEY too had lost hope and were now asking me to fill out a form with a detailed description of the items I had lost in the bag and the bag’s value. I was a bit lazy to fill it out completely and asked for about $850 dollars to replace my podcasting audio kit and the suitcase, the most expensive items. I had completely forgotten that I put a portable scanner and my very expensive productivity mouse in the suitcase. I should have charged them about 1500 bucks at least.
Our first installments arrived for our program, giving me some financial breathing room. I took the liberty to replace a lot of the items, especially clothing and the suitcase. I got a shiny new set of blue Samsonite bags on sale at Kohl’s. I was sick of people asking me if I had put air tags in my bag to trace it. Of course not. I didn’t even lock my bag or write my address on it. I know. I’m very trusting AND lazy. Of course, I went to Best Buy and bought some as well.  I flew back to Philippines, with a stop in Korea without any problems. On to Türkiye to my fellowship location. No problems. The air tags are cool.
A month later I received the $850 dollars as compensation for the loss of my suitcase. End of story. Right? Wrong.
I get an email in mid October from Philippine Airlines explaining that they have my bag in Manila and need a TSA authorization to send it on to the US. I was shocked. Could it be my bag? Surely the most expensive items had been stolen out of it already .. Was it really my bag?
I sent them pictures of the baggage tags, the bag, and instructions to send it to my wife in the Cebu .. a mere 45 minute flight away. There was no need to send it to the US. I wasn’t there after all. There was no need for a TSA authorization. They sent me back a response. They thanked me for all the information and insisted I give them a TSA authorization form. I thought for a moment that maybe the Philippines used the term ‘TSA’ as well, but I wasn’t sure. I sent them what they wanted and they respond almost immediately the next day that they will be sending my bag to its original destination .. Washington, DC!!?
I didn’t argue. I resisted the temptation to complicate matters for them. I knew it was inevitably going to be sent to DC. A few days later, I chatted again with the baggage customer service agent and they did indeed, verify that my bag had made it and was waiting for pick up. I explained to them what had happened. They asked me if I had been compensated for the bag. I answered honestly with a slight moment of hesitation, and thankful it was a chat online not face-to-face. They said it didn’t matter and I could keep the money and that they were very sorry for the inconvenience. They had to apologize to me for making me wait while they contacted the baggage desk at Dulles in DC, and I remarked to them,
“I’ve waited almost three months, I think I can wait a few more minutes.”
We arranged my bag to be sent to Pennsylvania, the closest airport to my parents. Once my father had picked the bag up, he took pictures of all the items inside. There was nothing missing. Over $1000 dollars worth of equipment was there and intact.
What once was lost. Has now been found .. after 80 days. The details of its hiatus will remain a mystery forever.