The flight to New England went smoothly, and I recall virtually none of it owing to having slept through the majority of the ride. The landing, taxiing and disembarkation of the plane all went as smooth as could be expected given the late hour of our arrival (around 1:30 AM or so), and we tired passengers made our way dutifully to baggage claim.
I stood around for a bit waiting for the bags to begin appearing, but since it seemed they were taking their time I decided to wander over to the rental car check-in and get my car squared away (it was a mere twenty feet away from the baggage claim, so I could easily see the bags). This all went fairly smoothly except for the one small point that all rental cars were being selected from one particular vendor. My understanding is that after a certain hour the remaining cars to be picked up are all consolidated so that only one rental company has to pay for an employee to stay so late. This was fine since I was still renting my car through the company I had previously selected, and would be returning it to them, too.
The person at the register kept trying to get me to upgrade my car from the compact I had rented, but since I knew I was going to do a lot of driving I stood my ground and opted for the better gas mileage. As it turned out they only had SUVs left, and so I got a free upgrade to that anyway… but then I had to pay a significant amount more for gas, so I was not as thrilled as that perhaps should have made me (plus I just hate driving SUVs in general).
My triumph over unnecessary upgrade fees kept my spirits up (I did not yet know I was getting upgraded regardless) as I turned back to the baggage claim belt just as the first set of bags started coming out. Normally my bag is very easy to spot since my usual luggage is in the form of a hockey bag, but this time I had my traditional bag instead so I had to check the names on multiple bags to make sure they were not mine. Soon it became apparent that it was the same bags going in a circle and no new bags were being added. My bag was not one of the ones making the rounds, and did not magically join them despite my attempts to conjure it.
The baggage attendant and a handler started to pull the remaining bags off the carousel and bring them over to the check-in. There were many bags that needed to be removed, most likely owing to the number of people who had opted to wait for a flight the next day or who had flown stand-by on an earlier flight, but mine was not among them. Even though I had checked them as they passed on the carousel I looked each one over just to be extra sure. Nada.
Two other passengers had missing bags, and one very irate lady had picked up a minor dent to her “brand new” suitcase (which, judging from the dull scuff marks on it, was at least a year old already). I was in no hurry given that I had a four hour drive ahead of me for a wedding still twelve hours away, so I let the others go in front of me. The two who had lost their luggage were about as calm and composed as you can be at two in the morning, having just discovered you have no clothes but those on your back. One of them, a man in about his mid-60s, also had foolishly put his keys in his luggage and so was out those, as well. He did not even raise his voice as he dutifully reported his missing luggage and then called someone for a ride (I presume).
Miss “New Luggage” however, was having none of this “polite” nonsense. She did not quite go into a screaming fit, but her demeanor and tone left no doubt that she was going to have someone’s hide for this terrible injustice against her precious suitcase. The dent in question was about half an inch deep and about two inches long on the bottom of the suitcase, near where the wheels were. She demanded compensation, loudly and with great force (possibly great spittle, too; the baggage attendant flinched a few times). Unfortunately for her such a small dent constituted “normal wear” for a suitcase, and Southwest was not going to reimburse her for the damage. I generally believe that a company must take responsibility for its actions, but in this case I was inclined to side with Southwest. It is expected that bags do not fly as comfortably as you do (such as it is), and small bits of damage are not uncommon. If this had been a massive gauge out of her bag I would have had sympathy, but her self-entitlement overrode any amount of caring I might have possibly had. It was an especially stupid claim since just a few inches above the dent was a large, black scuff mark about the size of my thumb that looked permanent. She made no comments about this mark so I can only assume it existed prior to the tragedy currently befalling her bag. I wonder if she tried to get compensation for that, too.
The lady finally admitted defeat and went on her way, but not without shooting a few choice words at her new friend. I am sure that, given her job description, this sort of display was a nightly, if not hourly, occurrence for the baggage attendant, but it was still depressing to witness. Sometimes (okay, frequently) people just need a good smack upside the head. We walked into the office and I filled out my missing baggage report. She, I and the baggage handler sorting the remaining luggage were the only three people in the airport as near as I could tell. As I handed the paper back to her the topic of getting the luggage back to me came up:
Baggage Lady: Will you be staying in the area? Is there somewhere we can ship your bag to?
Me: Uh, not really. I will be moving around a lot…
Baggage Lady: Surely you have an address we can send it to?
Me: Well, I’ll be in Maine today, New Hampshire tomorrow, Massachusetts after that and then back to New Hampshire.
Baggage Lady: …
Baggage Lady: I’ll just put “mobile” down in the address field.
“Just so long as you don’t think I’m going to Alabama!” is what I should have said, but I didn’t because it was 2:30 AM and even night crew don’t have operational brains at that point. Missed opportunity. L’esprit de l’escalier.
Since it was decided that I would pick up the bag myself from the airport at the first good opportunity I was given a voucher for my next Southwest flight. I got $50 for making the effort to get the bags myself, and “New Luggage” lady got nothing for all her whining and screaming. We call that justice… or at least schadenfreude.
Voucher and claim slip in one hand and keys in the other, I made my way to the rental car garage to finally claim my ride and begin the journey farther North. At this airport the rental car facility is a short walk from the main terminal either by skybridge or straight out the main doors, so it was a quick trip. I clicked the key fob a few times and followed the blinking lights to my new ride. This is when I discovered it was an SUV, and I had a laugh at just discovering the trickery that had been attempted by the upgrade pressure. I loaded her right up and did the walk around to look for dents, scratches, etc. Everything was in order so I hopped in and drove away.
Or, rather, I tried to. As I pulled the car around to the exit gates I saw that each gate in turn was closed, and a car had been parked in the middle of each lane. The only lane without a car blocking it was the return lane, which of course had a spike strip preventing cars from backing out. Not wanting to shred the tires I opted to not go through that lane. I stepped out of the car and walked around the rental area that I was now trapped within. Every conceivable exit was either blocked or mined. With not a soul in sight, not even a security guard, I had no exit. I walked back to the terminal in the desperate hope that whomever was manning the check-in station was still there, but no luck there. I also tried calling the rental car’s hotline, but only got automated machines informing me of business hours. I did not need a tow or roadside assistance (I could not even get to the road…) so I did not call that number. So I did the only sensible thing I could at 3 AM while trapped in a parking garage: I slept.