At 7:03 am today, my husband went out to the living room to restart our Internet. I lazily looked out of the window waiting for the sun to peek over the cliffs and provide our house some much needed warmth. We live in the shadow of a mountain, meaning sunrise is a delayed phenomenon. I heard his voice in the distance, and it had taken on a business-like tone, which was odd for this hour. His work calls to America didn’t start until around 2 pm local time.
“Yes. Yes, it does have some teddy bears in it. Errrm…baby shoes? No, we don’t have a baby. That might not belong to us…”
I sat straight up in the bed. Was he on the phone with the airline about our bag? My heart began to pound fiercely against my rib cage. Just Monday, Lauren Fulford-Andrews from the Virgin Atlantic baggage service wrote me a heartfelt (probably canned_ email response about how sorry he was that my bag was lost and how unusual of an occurrence it was. He hoped that it wouldn’t change my opinion of the airline, but unfortunately there was nothing Virgin Atlantic could do about the lost luggage. It was up to South African Airways, our final carrier for our trip, to either provide reimbursement or locate my bag. In return, South African Airways pointed me back to VA, stating that the bag was NEVER scanned through Johannesburg but that I was welcome to fill out a claim form. I would have to come to Jo-burg (an 8 hour drive) or Port Elizabeth (2.5 hour drive) to do this. We drove the 2.5 hours to Port Elizabeth 2 Saturdays ago, only to discover in a follow-up call days that SAA could have emailed us the form…the woman who picked up our call that day just decided not to give us that option.
After itemizing the contents of my bag, the total to be reimbursed came to R24,000 (about $1500). As all of my Twirra followers know, the previously lost Ghana Must Go bag contained all of my winter boots, my First Lady Hat, my Sutra flat irons, several pairs of heels and an odd assortment of items. I wear a size 10 shoe and have wide calves. It’s difficult for me to source shoes that are both stylish AND a good fit because my feet and legs are not “mainstream”. So when I heard talk of items that sounded familiar to mine, I was filled with indescribable glee!
“Let me let you talk to my wife,” Marshall said, handing me the phone. “She’s the one who packed the bag so she would know.”
“Hello, M’em? This is Cyril from South African Airways in Port Elizabeth.”
“Hi! Hi, Cyril. Good morning!”
Oh my God, y’all. I felt like I was a contestant on The Price is Right.
“Yes. I think we have your bag here. It just came in from Virgin Atlantic in Jo’burg today!” Oh, really! So despite all their claims that SAA had to have the bag, VA had it all along? Cyril was still talking. “There are some teddies…so black and white teddies and a corduroy bag?”
Those didn’t sound familiar, but I HAD just packed up a whole house. Who knows what I’d stuffed in there at the last-minute. “Is there a grey dolphin in there,” I asked. Liya came crying because her Pop Pop had won her that dolphin at the Clark County fair last summer and she REALLY wanted it back!
“Yes! I see a dolphin.”
My heart began racing at a new pace.
“Do you see some boots, Cyril?”
“Yes…Some gum boots. And a big, big men’s shoe.”
That was Marshall’s one pair.
“What about black boots? Do you see any riding boots…err…tall black ladies boots?”
“I see some tekkies. A white one with pink laces…Nike. And also a black one with pink laces.”
My Nikes and New Balances. Oh my GOD! This was my bag!
“Cyril. Do you see a hat? A white hat!”
Cyril, my angel from lost baggage at South African Airways paused. He told me that he’d have to empty the whole bag to see if he could find a hat. He teased me, informing me that was stuffed pretty well. I giggled. I HAD stuffed it. I had stuffed full of my favorite boots and shoes and my sister’s hat.
“Yes. I know.”
Finally, he asked me to describe the bag itself. It is red and yellow and white, made of vinyl.
“Then m’em, this is YOUR bag!”
I squealed. I literally squealed! This luggage has been missing since May 29th. Today is June 30th. I had already resigned myself to reality that it was GONE. That I would never see my First Lady Hat again, and that I’d have to run these uglass Easy Spiritis I’d flown into the country with into the ground until I got back to the States and re-buy everything.
“We will be at your house in an hour. You can expect us at 8, ok? Maybe 8:30. Okay, you make it 9 am. We are coming now now.”
“Sure! I’ll see you then!”
I shot up out of bed and took a shower. I wanted to be clean and presentable when my bag arrived. I waltzed around the house with a smile on my face. NOTHING was going to ruin this wonderful day. The lamb that was lost was finally coming home!
At 11:21 am, the guys from SAA showed up at the door. They laid Ghana Must Go at my feet. That was my bag alright! But why did it look so… thin?
“I need to see if all the items are inside,” I said.
The man with the clipboard told me I ought to. So I did. I dumped the contents of my found bag onto the floor and couldn’t believe my eyes.
Out tumbled all of the kids’ stuffed animals.
Out tumbled two pair of sneakers.
Out came 1 purple Sam Edelman heel and 1 black Pink & Pepper heel. Their mates were NOWHERE to be found.
Out tumbled my beaded Kenyan flip flops and a Guess satchel I’d bought Aya to play dress up with when she was 5.
Out came 1 pair of rain boots.
No leather riding boots.
No suede tall boots.
Nadjah’s Tommy galoshes were a vapor.
My quilted waterproof boots were nowhere to be seen.
The Sutra and BayBliss flat irons? You can just forget that. Those run at $120-150 a piece.
The First Lady Hat?
Essentially, they took everything of value…anything with a label, from the bag. I looked at the driver and his mate as though they were bringing me news of Hodor’s death. No…as if they were Brandon Stark trying to explain away their part in Hodor’s death! What a betrayal. What a violation! I felt hollow inside. I still do.
“Some of my things are missing.” My lips curled as though I had just been made to swallow cat urine – a hoax, thinking it was lemonade.
The driver shrugged. “You can call this number and file a claim for the missing items. I’m sure your husband is very familiar with the procedure.”
He impatiently asked me to sign a sheet of paper saying he’d delivered the bag. I refused to sign it. I told my husband he could have that “honor”. I didn’t want my name anywhere near that fraudulent sheet of parchment.
I felt cheated. Like I’d been invited to a banquet, gotten all dressed up, and only been served moldy bread and tepid water. Why would someone DO this? Why would you take SO MANY things that don’t belong to you??? Why, Virgin Atlantic? Why, South African Airways? Why, white Jesus?
So this how the story ends. I have my bag, but I don’t have my stuff.
There is no way I’m getting my stuff back. They can’t be traced. I may get compensated for my stolen belongings, or I may not. Virgin and South African may try to toss me about the same way they’ve been doing for the past 30 days. Even if they do reimburse me for my stolen items, where would I go to shop? Plettenberg Bay is a village….a beautiful village…but they don’t have diverse shops that cater to women of my stature.
I fault Virgin Atlantic for this entire fiasco. They said SAA had the bag in their possession and they never did until today. SAA gets a lot of flack and has a bad reputation in the industry for losing passenger’s items, but this time it wasn’t their fault. There is no version of this that ends with Richard Branson on my door step personally apologizing for hiring sticky fingered goons in his organization. There is no version of this where I spend my first winter in South Africa with warm feet. There is only this lengthy form that I fill out and send back into the ether with hopes that an agent takes the time to give it serious consideration.
But FIRST, I have to fill out a police report and have an officer stamp it with an official seal. Can you believe that? YOU (Mr. Airline) jack ME and I have to swagger into the police office to report you. You know you are a thief. Go and report yourself!
PS: I’m aware that there are loads of typos in this post. I don’t care. I can’t go back and revisit this. It’s just too painful.
Have you ever been robbed by an airline? Did you get justice? DO you think Richard Branson will come by for tea and tell me how sorry he is that his company mucked up?