I don’t know what’s with my family and losing stuff in convention centres and airports.
- A couple of years back (in 2016), while attending a Microsoft Conference in Atlanta, USA I lost my valuable iPad, the next day I found it thanks to the helpful event staff onsite.
- The next year (in 2017), my son lost his Phone and Kindle reader at the Chennai Domestic Airport, thanks to good samaritans of my city (Chennai) we got back the items the next day.
- Almost two decades back (around 2001-02) I used to travel between Chennai and Bangalore weekly twice, and, they were mostly same-day return, so you can imagine the trips to be always rushed and in hurry. In one such trip, as I was returning through Bangalore’s (the older) HAL Airport which was always crowded, I put my laptop bag (the ubiquitous IBM black leather bag in those days) with IBM ThinkPad T20 series laptop through the security scanner, picked it up, boarded the flight, landed in Chennai, came home, opened the bag, pulled the laptop out and started it – only to realise it was not my laptop nor my bag, but the same model – frantically I searched the bag for any visiting cards, addresses or username, no luck! There was an envelope with a five-star hotel check-out invoice, from that I got the name of the gentleman whose laptop I was having. Next, was figuring out how to reach him and check whether he has my laptop, it could’ve very well got mixed with a third-person. Going through the invoice, I found one particular he had called often, I dialled the number and asked for the gentleman, it was his residence, he came on the line, after explaining to him he said he has his laptop with him, on my insistence he checked and yes (a big relief to me) he was having my bag. He was a Vice-President with ICICI Prudential Insurance in Chennai. Next day, I sent my driver to meet his assistant at their office in Cenotaph Road, Chennai to handover the bag I had and collect my laptop back.
January 2019 – String Bag & Chips
And just when I thought my losing streak is over, this one happened. It was last year, January 2019, I was returning after attending a Python workshop in Hyderabad. It was a late-night “Air Asia” flight from Hyderabad to Chennai, the 8:30 PM flight got delayed multiple times, took-off after 11 PM to land in Chennai past midnight. I was in the aisle seat ‘C’ (3-3 seater configuration). I was carrying my laptop (ASUS Zenbook) in a big Samsonite blue shoulder bag (seen below), which I put in the overhead storage above my seat:
As soon as the wheels touched down, a young man (I didn’t see his face as I was half-sleep) seated in seat ‘A’, climbed (really) on the handrest of the middle-row and on the aisle-side handrest to jump into the pathway. After being told by the air-hostess to get back, he came the same way (climbing on the handrest) to sit down. After the flight doors opened he got up, and, pushed everyone before him to rush out of the gate. I waited, as I always do for the crowd to thin, got up and looked for my bag – it was not there. There was only a string bag (seen below) and no other bags anywhere.
I was starting to get worried. I approached the air-hostess, who asked me to pick up the black bag and wait for their security staff – I refused to touch someone else’s bag – after a few minutes, the security staff came and after hearing what had happened, they kept talking on the walkie-talkie to their ground staff in the terminal. I was standing in the boarding stairs, the minutes went by, with no updates. My worry started increasing.
Then, the new set of passengers started climbing the stairs to board. I asked the security staff what is happening and should I be standing there till they resolved this. That’s when they realised I was still there and they got me into a car and brought me to the terminal. By then, the check-in bags had started to arrive in the carousel and my fellow passengers were leaving the terminal. I walked to the Air Asia booth and explained my position. They said this (bag missing, onboard) is a common occurrence since there was another bag in the flight (by now it had been brought to the terminal by their security staff) the person who lost it, will be approaching them any minute and he will be having my bag. I kept reasoning to them, this doesn’t feel like a harmless mistake. How can someone mistake my huge laptop bag for what looked like a light string bag, this was probably a theft. Minutes went by, nothing happened. They made announcements, they went and asked the remaining passengers in the carousel – no one was reporting a missing bag.
By now I was listing mentally the items I had in the bag apart from my laptop: It had my wallet (careless of me to have not taken it out after the security check) with my driving license and credit card; While I was waiting I called up the credit card and blocked my card; I had to give a police complaint to apply for getting a new copy of the driving license.
A friendly looking ground staff named Mr Balaji came, he assured me I will get my bag back and went out of his way to pull up passenger information from the system. He called the passengers seated in my row and the rows before and after. As I was eagerly looking at his face during every call, all of them told him that they were having their bags with them. That’s when I remembered the young man in 15-A Seat who rushed out, Mr Balaji said he had called him too – no luck, same reply. Then came the shocker!
Another staff of Air Asia said that we can look for contact details from the contents of the string bag and opened it. <wait for it>. It had six full packs of “Lays” Potato Chips and what appeared to be a Hyundai car key. Imagine my expression. Who is going to come back, to return a laptop and wallet for a pack of Potato Chips? And who on earth eats six packets of potato chips?
I got convinced that this was a professional con job – to leave behind a bag stuffed with useless items and then pick up someone else’s laptop (bag). Now it was well 1 AM, I lost all hopes, gave a written complaint (seen below) to Air Asia, gave my number to Mr Balaji and returned home.
I was sleeping, my phone rang, time was 3 AM, it was Mr Balaji from Air Asia at the other end and he was sounding excited. He said, “Mr Venkat, we found your bag it’s with us, please come and collect it after 9 AM from Chennai’s International Terminal“. I was speechless and tried to ask him what had happened?.
He replied “The young man seated at 15 A was on transit, he had a flight to catch to Thailand from the International terminal, he was already behind time for that flight, in that tension, he had not noticed whose bag he was having and had gone to international security scan, that’s where he was unable to identify his bag but was seen placing my bag in the scanner before. By then my colleagues had gone to meet the young man, to double-check and we found your bag with the identifications you mentioned.” Overall, it was a genuine but stupid mistake by Mr X seated in 15 A.
That morning around 10 AM, as I went to Air Asia’s office at the international terminal (remember, civilians, need a passport to enter even the back office if this place) I was having another surprise. One of the staff was having a birthday and had brought home-made sweets and cakes from Kerala, I was given some to taste. After the sweet treat, I got back my laptop bag with all it’s contents. I thanked profoundly everyone there and left happily.