When bags have wings

Topics Holidays | Weekend Reads

I love planning holidays. Every new year, I pounce upon the virgin calendar, check if a few of our many national and state holidays have fallen close to weekends and if, therefore, I can turn them into short or long breaks away from the city pent. And then comes the best part — picking a destination from my bottomless travel bucket list. Many pleasurable hours of confusion are spent on this happy enterprise. Should it be this or that? The hills or the sea? Restful or frenetic? Incredible India or the decadent occident? 

This holiday season was no exception. I have meditated on it for months, weighing the pros and cons of a dozen likely destinations before zeroing in on one. I have trawled the internet for the best travel and hotel deals and doggedly imbibed the must-see and must-do tips from scores of websites. For me, the delight lies in the details, and I have dwelt on each with enthusiasm as I went about crafting my holiday.

But in the midst of all the excitement, I’ve felt a tiny tug of anxiety. As indeed I do every time I plan on going somewhere by air. The tug grows into a nagging worry as the travel dates draw near, and it turns into full-blown panic when I land at my destination and wait by the baggage carousel to collect my suitcase. 

I stand there with my mouth dry, my heart hammering in my chest, and watch the bags pass sedately by. I know I won’t miss spotting mine when it comes along. With its prominent red tag and a hideous pink and yellow ribbon tied to its handle, my shabby brown suitcase, which would otherwise look like a 100 other shabby brown suitcases, is unmissable and guaranteed to put off any would-be pincher of bags. However, until it shows up, I fight to control my dread, for I am 90 per cent sure that it won’t come, that it’s gone astray, sent off to god knows where by some stupid airline glitch, leaving me without my spare glasses and a single change of clothes.

And, of course, the terror is 10X if I’ve landed in foreign parts, where a separation between me and my bag would mean that I would have to spend my meagre forex reserves on essentials like a toothbrush until the airline restores the errant luggage to me. 

There should be a name for this — the fear of losing one’s bags on a flight. And it’s strange that there isn’t, considering that there are fancy names for stuff like the fear of the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) or the fear of beards (pogonophobia), which, by the way, I am also in danger of developing, what with the innumerable thickets of beard one sees in India these days. From Narendra Modi to Amit Shah to nearly every young Indian male — there’s one growing any which way you look.

Be that as it may, given my peculiar malady, you can imagine the horrid fascination with which I read the news sometime back that IndiGo Airlines had left behind all the luggage of a flight from Delhi to Istanbul. Just look at that, I exclaimed to anyone who cared to listen. Isn’t it unconscionable, I sputtered. (Big words are warranted when your outrage is mile-high.) You know of friends and relatives whose bags have been left behind. But an airline forgetting to load the luggage of an entire flight must be something of a record.

The incident made my own dread in this regard much more acute this holiday season. So I looked up some statistics to try and calm my nerves and see if I could dispel my paranoia. I found that according to the airline information technology company SITA, the total number of “mishandled” bags fell from 46.9 million in 2007 to 24.8 million in 2018 — a reduction by almost 50 per cent — and this has been possible due to the vast improvement in the baggage-tracking technology of airlines. 

That’s still nearly 25 million bags misplaced by airlines last year, right? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously wondering if I should follow Greta Thunberg’s example and give up air travel altogether.

Shuma Raha is a journalist and author based in Delhi @ShumaRaha

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