According to Jewish tradition, a baby not only receives a secular name but also a Hebrew name, to memorialize a deceased relative. My Hebrew name – a tribute to my great-grandfather — is Moshe.
In English that means Moses. And like my famous namesake, I didn’t quite make it to the Promised Land.
That’s where the similarity ends. In the Bible, Moses confronted a tyrant, led an enslaved people through the wilderness for 40 years, and, denied entry by Divine command, at age 120 climbed Mount Nebo, which is in today’s Jordan, overlooking Israel, and was buried there by God.
Unlike the original Moses, I have been to Israel many times. Most recently, on June 28 I boarded an Air Canada Express flight at Logan – which was two hours late – and then sat with fellow passengers on the tarmac at Pearson Airport in Toronto for another two hours, waiting for an available gate.
Meanwhile, my connecting flight to Tel Aviv took off.
The Biblical Moses had his share of frustrations – the golden calf, rebellion, water shortages, periodic plagues, constant whining, and griping. But he couldn’t possibly have imagined the worldwide airport chaos in the summer of 2022.
I wasn’t supposed to be in Bedford between June 29 and July 8, and when people learned about my aborted itinerary, they reacted like I was bereaved. I appreciate the condolences, but I’m not investing much in self-pity, because hundreds of travel-related disappointments are unfolding every day.
The air travel industry wasn’t expecting this torrent of customers so soon after scaling down workforce and inventory to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. Now millions of people have decided that their travel plans are worth the risk, and they have overwhelmed the airlines. That means delays and cancellations that result in missed cruises, weddings, job interviews, vacations, business deals, and a return to Jerusalem for the first time since 2019.
So I don’t blame you for rolling your eyes. But I do think the story of my suitcase’s 12,500-mile journey over 12 days and three continents is more interesting.
It was a new, expandable suitcase, Kenneth Cole brand, off the shelf at TJ Maxx in the Great Road Shopping Center. We spent several days together at home, then separated at Logan’s Terminal B baggage check-in on June 28.
After the delays in Boston and on the Toronto runway, I rushed to the departure gate and found the place empty. My first thought was to find the right person to help me rebook the flight that I just missed. But after almost an hour of dead-end permutations with an agent, it was apparent that there were no seats available for several days. So I reluctantly reserved a seat on a return flight to Boston the following evening.
Then I remembered the suitcase. It couldn’t possibly have made it to the Tel Aviv flight I missed – right? And anyway, don’t airlines follow a security policy that prohibits loading luggage without an accompanying passenger?
So the suitcase must be somewhere in the Toronto airport. No problem, right? Well, the terminal building is the 12th largest in the world, at more than 23.7 million square feet. The airport itself, at 7.2 square miles, is more than half the size of Bedford. (Hanscom Field is 1.75 square miles.)
As the sun went down, activity throughout Pearson remained frenetic. An Air Canada customer service representative said no one could help me at night, but she did give me a voucher for a hotel and $20 for food, which was supposed to cover 24 hours.
Returning to the airport on Wednesday at 12:30 – a seven-hour cushion to locate the luggage – I was directed to various stations, all with long waiting lines. Finally, I was assured that the bag was in the Toronto airport, and it could even be scanned onto my boarding pass for inclusion on the flight back to Boston. Or not.
The plane arrived at Logan past midnight, and after watching the carousel for about 50 revolutions I had to admit that the suitcase didn’t make it home. I returned to the airport a few hours later to file the requisite paperwork. Air Canada has a small baggage office next to the carousel; it was replete with unclaimed baggage – maybe 40 of them, piled against the wall and in a storage area.
An agent, much more helpful than her counterparts at Pearson, said her records showed that the luggage had been scanned in Boston. She disappeared for 20 minutes to check some other repositories but returned with nothing.
Now it’s Thursday afternoon, June 30. There were more forms online, and a holiday weekend to navigate – July 1 was Canada Day, July 4 Independence Day. So now it was all about patience.
Then came an unexpected breakthrough. Late Tuesday morning, July 5, a week after the original departure, I received a text message from someone I never met, accompanied by a photograph. “Is this your suitcase?” he asked.
The guy was texting from Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. The photo showed an array of tagged suitcases and other travel bags, of all sizes and colors, in an area marked by a strand of ribbon attached to stanchions. Behind them, a banner proclaimed in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, that Ben-Gurion Airport is “with you and for you, for always and forever.”
Near the front of the pile was my suitcase, resplendent with the plastic identification tag I had bought at CVS – the last one they had in stock.
I called the guy on WhatsApp, and he explained that while looking for his own missing luggage, he spotted my phone number and decided to see if he could help. I forwarded the photograph to Air Canada in Boston and Tel Aviv, along with a detailed description he provided of its location at the airport.
Now it’s just a question of how long will it take.
But wait – there’s more. Wednesday at 6 p.m., I spotted another text on WhatsApp, from another wandering Good Samaritan. “Hello, I found your luggage at Ben-Gurion while looking for mine. You can check in the lost-and-found department with the company Aero Handling. Good luck.”
So much for the detailed description and photo.
Whatever. I shared the revised detail with Air Canada, and three days later a courier delivered the luggage to my door. She said she and her colleagues are delivering about 500 lost and delayed bags a day out of Logan. That’s a lot of sad stories.
How wonderful that complete strangers were concerned enough to take time from their own baggage search to text me. And in Israel, security is so sophisticated that they let people walk around checking bags, taking pictures, and sending texts?
Any lessons learned? Here are two: Fly non-stop if you can. And try to stash all your stuff in a carry-on.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763