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Surprise! We opened your packages

By Debbie Leffler • Jan 4, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Dear Southwest Airlines,

Let me start by saying that it is amazing that an airplane can transport a person thousands of miles in just a few hours. Since I have made many car trips to visit relatives, often with four small children, I know how difficult and long traveling by car can be.

It is incredible to me that a huge, heavy aircraft can leave the ground and fly above the clouds. This is a feat of science and engineering, far above my ability as an English teacher to understand. When I sit by the airplane’s window and look down — look down — at tiny highways and cars and later on look down at the tops of mountains, I am in awe.

Since I work full time during the school year, you are my lifeline to my children and grandchildren — the only way I can travel to see most of them without spending most of the time in transit. I love your airline for several reasons — especially your “no change fee” policy. If I buy a ticket and then realize I can’t go, I can use that money for another flight.

And then there’s the “two bags fly free” policy — that’s what I’m writing to you about. I don’t want to criticize too much, because I love the miracle of air travel. But: I was especially attracted to your airline because I was traveling last month from Columbus to Dallas to Oakland, Calif., and then back to Ohio, and I had clothing and holiday presents to take along. So I thought I’d take advantage of your “two bags fly free” policy and load one suitcase with presents and the other with clothes.

But one of those suitcases did not arrive in Dallas. A survey you later sent me about my experience referred to this as a “baggage irregularity,” which I found humorous, because what really happened was that my bag was not there. I guess you could call that pretty irregular, since I waited while everyone else’s suitcase arrived on the “carousel” (a merry-go-round for luggage), but when the carousel ride was over, my suitcase did not appear.

So I waited on a line to report it missing. It was the suitcase with the clothes, not the presents. When I got to the front of the line, a very kind customer service person asked me a few questions and we filled out the “baggage incident” form. One of the questions on the form was to name three items in my suitcase that would help identify it as mine. Here is what we came up with (I am quoting from my copy of the form): Hamlet the book, October Sky, PJ’s purple with flowers. Can you tell I’m an English teacher?

So it was evening and we went to my son’s home in Dallas, without the suitcase. But the report had been filed and they said they would try to locate it. When they located it, they would either deliver it right to me or I could pick it up at the airport and receive a $50 credit.

Later that evening, I called the airport but it still had not been located. They referred me to a website called “wheresmysuitcase.com” — where I could click on my airline (among many airlines using this website) and track the progress of my missing suitcase — quite an interesting website concept. However, my suitcase had not been located yet.

I went to sleep in the T shirt I had worn on the plane, using the extra toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and shampoo my daughter-in-law thoughtfully kept just for such occasions. I planned to make a Target trip the following day if the suitcase didn’t appear.

But it did. And, judging from the yellow sticker stuck on top of the original luggage tag, it had made its way back to Dallas by way of Atlanta, which is odd because I had been on a direct flight from Columbus to Dallas. Apparently my suitcase had another travel plan.

Oh well, at least the suitcase with the presents took the direct flight. But when I opened it, I found a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” from the Transportation Security Administration. It informed me that “to protect you and your fellow passengers,” some bags are opened and physically inspected, and that my bag (the suitcase that arrived with the presents) “was among those selected for physical inspection.”

To the TSA’s credit, not every present was opened. But some were. I suppose those gifts wrapped with lovely snowflake wrapping paper could have contained something dangerous, instead of children’s toys and stuffed animals. But really, TSA, did you have to open the presents?

Here’s to keeping plane travel safe and sending suitcases for an extra ride,

Debbie Leffler

P.S. I was really glad to get my clothes back, and the copy of Hamlet and October Sky. And I had a wonderful time on my trip, although the temperatures here are quite a bit colder than in Oakland.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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