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: …

Me: …

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.