Baggage, What Baggage?

Volume 3, Issue 6; 2000-09

Vacations are nicer if you have your suitcases.

Unbeknownst to us, our trouble began at the Continental check-in desk. Our bags, we're assured are checked through to Toulouse. That's all well and good, but what about French customs? When you enter the United States from another country, you always have to collect your bags at your first point of entry, carry them through customs, and recheck them, no matter to what final destination they are checked. No doubt this is a consequence of our absurd national drug policy.

Anyway, what about French customs, I ask, pointedly? Will we have to collect our bags in Paris and carry them through customs? She's not sure. But her colleague is. Yes, absolutely. (You can see this coming, now, right?)

In Hartford, we board the commuter flight down to Newark about 70 minutes late. No problem, we had a huge layover in Newark anyway. Weather in Newark. Another hour delay. Everyone off the plane.

In Newark, we sit on a stiflingly hot plane and wait for the bus that will take us to the terminal. And we wait. And wilt. And wait. By the time we get to the gate, our long layover has dwindled to nothing, and we're relieved to be departing from the same terminal.

At Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, the real fun begins. While we impatiently wait for our bags, they're patiently waiting for us to board our connecting flight. Which we aren't going to do because of our one clear error, booking a fairly tight connection in Paris.

By the time we determine that our bags aren't coming, we've missed our connection. Off to the baggage handling office, could our bags still be in Newark? No, please, no. (We're going to be on a boat in the middle of a canal, where the heck are they going to send our bags!?). Thank goodness, they made it to Charles De Gaulle.

Off to the Air France desk to book another flight. (Our bags, we're assured, will be on whatever flight we board.) Our tickets are from Continental. Yes, it's an Air France flight, but no, we can't help you, you have to go to the Continental desk.

At the next desk, the attendent confirms that our flight has left. (Duh!) So, can you... No, no, no, you have to go over there. But this desk says "Continental". Yes, but this is an information desk. You have to go over there. They'll open in a few minutes.

The Continental desk opens at 8:00am. Not 7:59am, as it turns out, but 8:00am. There are three people working at the Continental desk. We explain our plight to the person helping us; she turns to a colleague for advice. The phone rings and the third attendant answers it. It's about our bags, they've been pulled off the 7:15am flight. Why did we miss our connection? Because we thought... No, we don't do it like in the States. (Note that we are now occupying the entire Continental desk!)

There's no space on any flight to Toulouse today. That's a problem, we're picking up a boat at 4:00pm this afternoon. Nope, there are no flights you can get on. I can put you standby on the 10:15am flight. Is there any chance that we'll get on? No, it's way overbooked. Gee, thanks.

Wait, I can get you four seats on the 1:30pm flight today. Ok. Can we still try for standby on the 10:15am flight without losing our seats on the 1:30pm? Yes.

Even in the airport, French coffee is good stuff.

Time passes. Standby on the 10:15am? You must be kidding. More time passes. It's time to check-in for the 1:30pm flight.

You don't have seats on the 1:30pm flight. What do you mean, the Continental representative (in the other terminal, of course), put these little stickers on our tickets and everything?! Yes, but she didn't actually book you on the flight; there wasn't any room to book you on the flight. You'll have to go to the Air France counter.

The woman at the Air France counter is sympathetic. No, there's no room on any flight to Toulouse today. However, you could fly out of Orly Airport and get to Toulouse today. If Continental will approve the ticket change. Yes, they will. Do you want to be on the 3:00pm flight or the 4:30pm flight? Will we make it to Orly in time for the 3:00pm flight? Uh, well, you might, but probably not. Well, that's a tough choice then, isn't it. We'll take the 4:30pm flight, thank you very much. Ok. Here's a slip of paper that tells you were to go to collect your baggage. Get on the bus to Orly at gate 12.

Check this. We're supposed to go behind airport security, collect our baggage, get on a bus, go to another airport and get on a completely different Air France flight to Toulouse. Yeah, this is going to work. What choice have we got?

Of course, the instructions on the slip of paper that tell us where the bags are turn out to be useless. Slipping through the one way door back into the secure area of the airport (should we be able to do this so easily!?) we manage to convince the guard, on the weight of a few scribbles on a slip of scrap paper, to let us back to the baggage counter. Where some of our bags are waiting.

The other bags, sir? Oh, they went to Toulouse earlier today. What do you mean, I thought they only went on the flight that we went on? Yes, that's true, but here's a scrap of computer printout with a bunch of numbers and letters on it that proves that they went earlier. Have a nice day.

The signs in the terminal say that the Orly bus leaves from gate 2. But she said 12. What's at 12? Another trek across the airport reveals that there's nothing at gate 12. Let's ignore the advice and follow the signs. Off to Orly.

In Orly, we're actually in time for the 3:00pm flight. Amazing. Can we go standby? Go stand in that line to check in. Time passes. A line crawls. Can we go standby on the 3:00pm flight? No, it's full. Ok, can you confirm that we actually have seats on the 4:30pm flight? Err. Uhm. Ok, you can go on the 3:00pm flight, here are your boarding passes. Huh? Nope, I'm not even going to ask. Toulouse here we come.

At the baggage office, I show the attendant the scrap of paper that proves our bags arrived earlier today. Can you describe them please? Ok, where can we send them when they arrive. What!? Look, this piece of paper says they already arrived! Ok, please wait. I wait. Can you come with me sir? Are these your bags? Yes.

1, 2, 3, 4. Yes, we're all in Toulouse. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 1, 2, 3, 4 carry-ons. Yes, all our bags are in Toulouse. Six hours late, but who's counting.

We have to call Locaboat. We're going to be late. Why don't pay phones in France take change? Why doesn't my credit card work in the damn phone? Wait, here's a phone that takes change!

Bonjour. Parlez vous Anglais? Thank goodness. Ok, we're going to be late. There's a bus to the train station leaving every 20 minutes. If we catch the next bus, we might just make the train to Argen-Minervois by 7:00pm. Ok, I'll be here. And I'll have a cab waiting for you at the train station. Thank you!

Just missed that train. Now we're going to get to Argen-Minervois at about 8:30. Oh. That's too late. I'll leave the boat unlocked for you. See you in the morning.

A short trudge through the streets of Toulouse allows us to obtain sandwiches and, most important, some bottles of wine. Eventually our train departs.

At 7:00pm we passed through huge fields of drying Sunflowers. The fields of southern France must have been ablaze of yellow a few weeks ago.

At 7:51pm, our train clattered past Carcasonne. On this "day," I saw the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and the ancient walled city of Carcasonne. Amazing.