From the October 2016 issue of Cy’s Suitcase, the official publication of the Traveling Cyclones
When you travel, you learn quickly that things are out of your control. There are delayed flights, cancelled flights, lost luggage, gate changes, and the list goes on. Typically, we experience one or two of these on a given trip. In July I was lucky enough to experience every single one of these on ONE trip. Having all of these happen to me taught me some valuable lessons I needed.
My adventure started in Des Moines, where my flight was delayed to Chicago. When our flight finally landed at O’Hare with only minutes to spare to make my connection, panic started to set in when I realized that if I missed this flight I may have to wait until tomorrow. This is never good, especially when you are hosting a group. I did the walk/jog through the terminals, caught the train, and made it just in time. I collapsed in my seat, relieved THAT was over. Little did I know my adventure was just beginning.
I landed in Copenhagen tired, but ready to go! I made my way to the luggage carousel and waited for my luggage. And waited. And waited. It never came. All the years I have traveled, this has only happened twice on the return, which is not a big deal. I went to the counter, trying to keep my cool. The gentleman there was very rude and not reassuring at all. I may have fought back tears at this moment, but I had to act like it wasn’t a big deal as I was surrounded by travelers. Once on the ship, I talked to the concierge and our GoNext program managers, who assured me this was common and that they were sure it would show up the next day.
Here is the part where I confess how horribly I had prepared: I travel a lot and know it is a common rule to pack an extra outfit and toiletries in your carry-on bag, but I gambled and lost. My carry-on was jam packed and there wasn’t an inch left for anything else. Plus, this sort of thing never happens to me, so I felt confident. That night I slept in a white t-shirt that the airlines had given me, washed my face and put Jergens hand lotion on my face, as that is what was provided to me. I washed my underwear and hung them on the clothesline in the bathroom and got into bed.
Lesson 1. Pack extra clothes and toiletries in your carry on.
Notice I didn’t say I slept. Because I didn’t. I was worried about my luggage as they had told me it hadn’t been located yet. My mind raced as I thought of everything that was in my suitcase that I may never see again.
Lesson 2: Don’t pack anything of value or anything you will miss.
Another confession: I had forgotten to purchase travel insurance. (In my defense, my life at work was crazy insane as I was covering for two additional employees who had left the ISUAA, so that explains a lot — right?)
Lesson 3. Always buy travel insurance.
The next morning, we were off to Berlin. With some extra time while there, I found an H&M clothing store and bought some things. I didn’t buy a lot because I was sure my luggage would appear soon. When we got back on the ship later that day I was told there was still no word on my luggage. Now I was worried. That night when I went to dinner my passengers noticed a change of clothes and were excited for me. No, I told them. No luggage. Just a shopping spree in Berlin. Again, no sleeping that night. I was living on 4 hours of sleep in two days. Not good. I was soon told by a fellow host that Zzz-Quil works wonders. I took one that night and will never travel without it again!
Lesson 4. Always have a supply of sleeping aids with me.
Finally, I received a text in the middle of the night telling me they had located my luggage. What a relief. Although it had been located, now we had to figure out to which port it should be sent. I soon became known as “the lady without luggage.” Word travels fast on a small ship, and before I knew it I had strangers asking me if I had gotten my luggage. Or people stopped me to tell me their own horror stories. If you have ever been pregnant, you know how moms stop to tell you all about their labors; it was like that. You really don’t want to know, but you are polite and smile. Day 3 passed, then 4 days. . .I started frequenting the ship boutique, which is not an economical place to shop for necessities. I became friends with the boutique workers and they were sad when my luggage was located as I stopped visiting. After five days, I received word that the luggage would be at the Latvia airport. It was soon decided I needed to go get it as they wouldn’t release it to the ship porter. I left my excursion early to get to the ship and take a taxi to the airport. When I arrived I was told I no longer needed to go and could have a someone else pick it up. I was told it would be there by 2:00. You can bet that at 2:00 I was at the concierge desk asking for it. They assured me it would be there. I stood and waited. I am sure they loved me at this point. Finally, a call came in that my luggage was there and, after a 30-minute wait which seemed like 30 days, my suitcase and I were reunited. When I got to my stateroom and opened that oversized suitcase and looked at all that I had, it was like looking at a buffet after you had already eaten. It was pure gluttony. I had so many clothes packed and I had been living on three shirts and one standard evening outfit for five days. I felt guilty.
Lesson 5: I can pack much lighter.
I enjoyed the remainder of the trip with all the clothes I hadn’t yet worn and never did unpack. What was the point with only four days left?
On the trip home my adventure continued. We had landed in Chicago after leaving Stockholm but were stuck on the tarmac for about an hour while a storm passed. Again, precious connection flight minutes were ticking away. Once we were able to deplane, I now needed to rush through Customs, rechecking my bag (which I will add was another scare as the attendant said my flight wasn’t showing up yet and he placed a sticky note on it. I told him, “Hold on. This suitcase and I were just reunited, please make sure it doesn’t get lost again. He assured me it would be fine. I felt zero confidence in his words.) I had no time to argue as my flight was leaving in less than 30 minutes and I still had to go through security. I made it to our gate out of breath. After an hour of delayed flights and many gate changes, it was announced that our flight was cancelled due to storms. I headed to the gate agent and rebooked a flight out the next morning. I grabbed a cot, pillow, and blanket and laid in the dark next to strangers, trying not to worry about my luggage with the yellow sticky note on it and where it may be. After hours of watching a wind turbine video play over and over above my head, the lights came on and we were on our way. It was 4:00 am and we all trudged to the nearest chance of coffee (FYI Starbucks is not open at this time in O’Hare). At 7:00 am I checked with a gate agent; the next flight to DSM was cancelled, so I waited for the next flight at 10:00 am. You can imagine how desperate I was to get out of this place and get home! We did board the plane for our 10:00 am flight, but it was taking a long time to leave. It was soon announced that a ceiling panel had fallen from the plane ceiling so we had to call maintenance to come fix it. Between finding the right tools, parts, etc., this took more than one hour. I was ready to rent a car. GET ME OUT OF HERE! They finally fixed it but now we had to refuel due to being on the tarmac too long. I can’t make this stuff up! When that plane took off, I may have shed tears of joy. Once we landed I went straight to the lost luggage counter. She asked if I had looked on the carousel yet. I told her no; you can imagine her look of surprise. So I went back to the carousel and waited and there she was: my taupe, beaten, but not broken, luggage. I grabbed that baby and rushed out of there and smiled all the way home.
Lesson 6: Don’t ever stop believing in miracles.
Shellie Andersen ’88, Director of Alumni Travel
Iowa State University Alumni Association