Sunday, May 31, 2009


There might be what appears to be a free lunch, but something else always gets you in the end.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho. It's off to work I go. With a headset and a map And a suitcase full of crap Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.

Except in this case, scratch the suitcase.

I checked it in before departure, and dropped it wheels up on the appropriate conveyor belt, but I didn't do what a savvy traveller should really be doing every time. I didn't look at the paper tape that the agent attached to the handle. It's mostly bar codes, but it should also have borne the letters YMM. You know what is coming now, but I was oblivious, just happy that the airline had a complimentary copy of the Globe and Mail for me, and that there was a short line for security. And then I was distracted until just before boarding by difficulties unhibernating my computer.

On the descent into Calgary, I had put away my Globe and Mail, and cinched up my seatbelt for the roller coaster turbulence coming from high winds over the Rocky Mountains on a hot day. I still had my boarding pass on my lap, and something odd caught my eye. The checked baggage sticker on the back started with the code YU. It's common for internal codes to omit the first Y of an airport code, so that VR is Vancouver (YVR) and UL is Montreal (YUL), but YYU is Kapuskasing. I'm going to Fort McMurray, YMM. Does YYU even have airline service? I examine it more closely and realize that YU isn't a partial airport code. It's someone's name. It's followed by a slash and the first name. Is that who checked me in? She didn't look like a Yu. I look over the rest of the claim check. It lists two flight numbers, one to Calgary, but not mine, and one to YXE. That's Saskatoon.

It's possible that I just have the wrong claim check sticker and that everything is fine with my bag. Or it's possible that my bag does not have the same travel plans as I do today. I explain my concerns to the gate staff where I disembark and they recognize the problem. Sure enough, there is no piece of checked baggage associated with my itinerary. I describe the bag and they type at computers and radio the baggage handlers to divert it. The situation appears to be under control, so I continue to my planned lunch meet.

Daniel recognizes me right away -- green hair is easy to spot, especially blowing wildly in the Calgary winds -- and I ask him if he's the man with the falafels. He admits to a change of plans: for various complicated reasons my free lunch is an enormous amount of chicken (or possibly beef: I'm not sure which one I ended up with) shwarma, with lots of spices and lettuce and whatever the Arabic is for tzaziki, all wrapped up in pita bread. Also olives and upscale orangeade.

Security chased us away from the first picnic table we chose. I had to ask, "is this a special secure picnic table?" No, it was the place the truck drivers ate. We went to another, not much further along. There we ate our sandwiches, talked about the same sort of things I talk about on the blog, chased down the bits of our picnic that kept blowing away in the wind, and wished each other well. Altogether preferable to eating at a chain restaurant in the terminal.

At the gate I enquired about my suitcase. They weren't the same people I had spoken to before, but they looked it up and said that it appeared to have been found. Ten minutes later they paged me to assure me it was on the flight. Except it wasn't. Right after I had explained to the person who came to pick me up that my suitcase had almost gone to Saskatoon without me, the baggage carousel stopped moving and there was a "that's it" announcement. I got to explain the saga again to the YMM customer service people, who got to work on tracing it.

I was just ruing my failure to notice the mis-tagging at the origin, but they were amused that I had noticed and interpreted the codes, and further amused that I produced a printed list of everything that had been in the bag when they asked what was in it. This is actually the first time I remember an airline (not counting Victory: they lost everyone's bags all the time) misplace my gear when it wasn't caused by a late flight and a tight connection.

Damnit, I should have double-checked that bag tag!


Anonymous said...

Hope your luggage turns up safely!

Sir Lukenwolf said...

I suppose that'll be one more item on the mental "checkin checklist" - hope it'll turn up soon

Sarah said...

Sounds like the airline is on the case of the missing case -- I hope it turns up soon. It's not your fault, of course, nor can it fairly be the cost of lunch. Just one of those things that happens.

I've only had my luggage lost once, ever. It showed up at my hotel the next morning. Coincidentally, and far worse, I discovered I had misplaced myself that morning when I called my coworkers for a car pickup. It turned out I had booked a flight to, flown to and slept in Nashville instead of Knoxville Tennessee. Was my face ever red. Oh well. It was a pleasant 2 hr drive in the rental car.

And yes, I now double check my claim check tickets and itinerary.

Dave Starr said...

I once worked for a company that shipped people's private autos from Port Newark, NJ to locations all over the world. My job was to deliver cars to the clerks at the shipper's office, dockside.

As shipping clerks (who are certainly higher up the labor ladder than piece work drivwers) will do, they mostly made us drivers fill out the forms and most importantly attach a sticker to the windshield with a three-letter destination code.

The boss of the company was actually a rather vile person, but we suffered along pretty much in silence until one day the boss upset a friend of mine a little too much.

The next morning at the port, my still seething friend collected about 20 outbound windshield stickers and affixed them to a like number of outbound cars ... all of them to the wrong location. He then resigned from the company that afternoon.

You should have seen the boss's face when he found out how much he had to pay the shipping compamy for erroneously Germany-bound cars to Yokohama and vice-versa. Indeed revenge is a dish best served cold.

Hope your bag fares better.

MathFox said...

As a computer programmer I have one question: How the hack is it possible to check in luggage in the name of someone else?Would this be reproducible, abusable, framing someone else for stuff (explosives, drugs) in your luggage?

Aviatrix said...

I only know what the sticker on the back of my boarding pass said. The kiosk had just opened, and I think that I was the first person to be checked in there that morning. My working assumption is that the baggage label printer works a bit like the one that prints your receipt at the gas station, and that if the previous one wasn't removed, it's possible to get the sticker from the last person who checked in. For all I know there's a an off-by-one error for everyone who checked in there, right up until someone was smart enough to look at the destination tag on their bag.

Anonymous said...

Mathfox: if something can go wrong, sooner or later it will. That's just the law of probability, it doesn't mean you can build a successful plot on the assumption that your bomb will be lost by the airline.
Can't you just hear those well-meaning feet running after you?
"Excuse me Sir..."

Sir Lukenwolf said...

How does your plane get to where you're going? If you fly there as a pax, is your trusted steed already there ?

MathFox said...

Anonymous, I know that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. When things randomly go wrong and there is someone around to fix it, not much is lost. In many cases people have an incentive to make things go right (and airline luggage seems to be one of those cases)

However, not every airport visitor is a honest traveller. Bag thieves and pickpockets are too often seen, smugglers show up now and then; terrorists are rare. If one of those dishonest visitors, let's concentrate on smugglers and bag thieves for now, knows about the bug in the baggage tag printer and tries to trick and unsuspecting traveller into mislabeling his/her bag.
For a bag thief it means that he can get a random bag to an airport of his choice, with a matching receipt on his ticket... At the cost of half a return fare. (make two labels at the kiosk, leave one.) Two smugglers working together might be able to check their loot under the name of the passenger who's standing between them in line.

I am just analysing how this type of failure can be abused by people. (If you think I sound too much like Bruce Schneier... I've read a lot of his writings and this analysis is inspired by them.)
P.S. Publicising security holes seems to be the quickest way to get them fixed.

Anonymous said...

Re: "How does your plane get to where you're going?"

The telepathic capacities of her tiara allow her to summon it.

See wiki/Invisible_Plane

zoogualu(verificaton word)

Anonymous said...

Been there too!

In my case, I was traveling to England to attend a wedding. At the gate before boarding, it was noted that the claim checks stapled inside the ticket cover had someone else's name and destination (Florida). We quicky brought this to the attention of the gate agent, who assured us all would be well.

As you might guess, the suitcase eventually made it to London, four days late. The suits within the suitcase were not worn at the wedding, as the wedding had already passed. Instead, it was a rather ragtag group that attended the wedding. Ah well.

In retrospect, I think the person going to Florida was checking in adjacent to us, and the ticket agent grabbed the wrong tags from where they were laying on the counter, and did not check.

Arf said...

DW and I recently flew LAS-YYC-YQR on AC with carry-on luggage only. The morning after we arrived in YQR DW gets a call from the baggage folks at YQR and tell her that she forgot to pick her bag off the carousel after her flight arrived. She tells the guy she did not check a bag and he tells her that there is a bag there with an AC routing tag that has her name on it. They go back and forth a bit and then he tells DW that he was wondering about the bag as he pulled up her profile and noticed that she is one of AC's top-tier travellers and thus is an experienced traveller. From what we can tell, it is likely that the agent checking us in in LAS probably printed a tag for DW and then accidentally stuck it on the next person to check in's bag as DW had no bag to check. Odd indeed. I hope that you get your bag back pronto.

Daffyd said...

Wow , you still got your hair green - Major Cool !

kbq said...

Mathfox - software by SCO, of course... :)

My tale, many years ago. Going from SFO to Houston via Denver. Late connection; I was directed to a plane leaving *now*, and was told to *run*. Did so, was boarded, and proceeded to Houston.

That's where I found out that there were *two* major airports in Houston. You can guess which one I was at...

Spent most of the week's business trip in jeans and T's before my luggage made it to the hotel.