T4 -- Totally True Travel Tales - Stolen Roller Bag

 

by Heather James

T4 Is an ongoing series of hard-to-believe but true encounters traveling to our signature At-Home closings. For more than 10 years we’ve been taking the closing anywhere that’s convenient for the client – literally anywhere. So, we have unintentionally amassed quite a few crazy stories that didn’t seem humorous at the time, but in hindsight, they certainly offer us a good bit of levity. Like they say, “you can’t make this stuff up!”

 

This story didn’t happen on the way to a closing, but it is about travel and it has definitely become a fan favorite. 

About two years ago, I was traveling out of town for a client meeting and, as usual, I arrived at the airport with significant amounts of extra time; being late is one of my huge pet peeves. Because I’m so efficient, I’m also a pro at the whole travel and security game. You should see me throw down some trays and prep my carryon items to be scanned in five seconds or less. 

On this particular trip, I did my typical five-second throw down with my husband’s suitcase (we have matching ones and his was handy since he had just returned from a trip the previous day), slid through that metal detector and emerged successfully on the other side. I grabbed the black bag behind my purse and headed out to the train. 

As the train arrived at my terminal, I heard my husband’s name paged.  Since he has a rather unusual name, I knew it had to be him so I grabbed my cell, called him, and I may or may not have given him a little bit of grief.

“What did you leave here yesterday? I’ll bet they’ve been calling your name for like 12 hours,” I jabbed at him. He assured me he left nothing behind and that, as unlikely as it seems, there must be another person with his name. I knew there was no way plus, what were the odds that it was one day after he flew and I was at the airport now to hear the page? Astronomical. But I shrugged it off and continued to my gate where I met up with Brook Zink, our operations guru who was accompanying me and Kara on the trip.

Brook and I filled in the expanse of time before our flight chit chatting. I even told her about my husband being paged and how I still believed he forgot something the night before. In fact, while waiting for our plane at the gate, I even noticed there was a weird, unfamiliar twisty tie on the bag, and wondered aloud to Brook when that got added that to the bag.  

Stick with me. These are all important details to this crazy travel saga.

Once we boarded, I loaded the suitcase into the overhead compartment, had an uneventful working flight, grabbed that bad boy, and exited the plane. We met up with Kara at the airport and located our Uber driver who took us to the hotel. It wasn’t until the three of us arrived and he handed me my bag from his trunk that I was immediately like, “That’s not mine.”  Pretty sure I even held up my arms to fend off the offensive object.

Unbelievable and while hard to fathom, this was the first time I had actually looked at the bag. And it looked nothing like my bag, except, of course, it was black. The poor Uber driver was quite concerned, repeating, “no, no, this is what you handed me.” 

Still, I was confused. This made no sense. I guess I thought he was driving around with random pieces of luggage and mine just had to be still somewhere in his car. I actually looked around for myself but, nope, his trunk was empty.

I stood there stunned for a few minutes. Then, in a flash, clarity flooded my brain. I replayed my five-second throw down and exit from the security area. I suddenly heard my husband’s name paged at the airport. I recalled my phone call giving him grief. I remembered the twisty tie.

Instantaneously, I realized that I stole someone’s bag off the metal detector. I. Stole. Someone’s. Bag. You’ve got to be kidding me -- not a checked bag even, my carryon!  And not only that, but I dragged it through two airports, two trains, a plane and a car. 

Obviously, bedlam immediately ensued. I frantically called “the airport.” My colleagues gave advice. I ate crow with my husband. And to top it off, I had no clothes, no shoes, no makeup – nothing – for my meetings. So I Ubered around a strange city at night searching for a Target, a mall, anywhere that I could find something to wear for my morning meetings!

It was an adventurous night for sure, long and stressful. Compound that with the fact that I absolutely refused to look inside the bag I had taken. There was no way I was invading someone else’s private space! I just pushed that roller bag against the wall and cringed at myself. 

The next day, of course, the story came out with our client. Honestly, I’m a bit of a novelty with my crazy travel stories, so no one was terribly surprised. But boy, did they think it was funny. One of the other lawyers in the room almost had a heart attack when, as we were talking, I mentioned that I guessed I would bring the bag back with me.

In some ways, I am totally street smart. You heard about the time I pushed an SUV out of the mud in heels to get to a closing. Right, I’m scrappy! But in other ways, I really have not got a clue. 

I was told under no circumstances could I travel back home with SOMEONE ELSE’S bag! Another person in the meeting had a connection to Homeland Security who, when consulted, told me that under no conditions should I attempt to fly with an unknown bag. Even if I searched the bag - which I was NOT going to do - and even though it passed one airport screening, did not mean there was not something in there that could get me in trouble and, if that happened, who would believe me that it wasn’t actually my bag?  (Even as I was shouting my story from the rafters?)

The price tag of my mistake was becoming significant. I was spending time and money to actually locate my own bag. I was the proud owner of a new wardrobe and cosmetic line. At least I did have the forethought to purchase a hefty gift card as a “so sorry” cringe gesture to the bag’s rightful owner. Once I screwed up the courage and looked for a name on the exterior of the bag, I slipped that gift card inside and sent that big old bag via the fastest UPS from my hotel to the other ATTORNEY I stole it from.  Did I forget to mention that? Yep, another attorney, who by the way, was way more understanding and kind than he needed to be. 

Definitely my first rodeo with airport thievery – and I hope my last! But I did learn some valuable lessons that I will never forget.

#1:  Mark your bag, even a carryon.

#2:  If you or your spouse’s name is called while you are in a public place - just go check. Always. Especially if you have tons of time. 

#3:  Never fly with someone else’s bag - even if you are the reason you have it. 

#4:  Own up to your mistakes. In other words: suck it up, Buttercup. 

#5:  Apology gift cards are always appropriate. 

 
Heather James