08 August 2006

a not-so-little luggage saga

great car dealer war : drive-by truckers
click here or on my backpack below to listen

I hate to start my first post-vacation blog on a negative note, but I feel that I have to publicly vent my frustration with Emirates Airlines just to get some form of revenge. I am by nature a very patient person – to a fault, my best friend would say – but the Dubai-based carrier rattled my nerves for a good part of the last two weeks. For reasons you will learn in a bit, I am still unsettled, but to a much lesser degree now. Hence this song that rings of understated rage by Drive-By Truckers, who have been dubbed by All Music Guide as "the greatest hard-rock band in America today." Even for someone who doesn't listen to hard rock very much, I think that's a bit of a stretch. Anyhow, Great Car Dealer War is a previously unreleased outtake from their excellent 2004 album The Dirty South. I got it from a free CD that came with Comes With A Smile, a small British magazine that seems to focus on American indie acts – a good but very niche idea.

First, a little bit of background. As I said in a previous post, my significant other and I went to Greece for our summer holiday, flying Emirates Airlines with stops in Dubai both ways. At the end of our holiday together, R and I separated in Dubai, with her going home and me proceeding to a solo trek in Iran and then a visit with friends to the UK. I flew with Iran Air to Tehran, and with British Airways to London, using Dubai as my hub. Why? It was a cheaper proposition than using Emirates for my entire itinerary. The BA flight, for one, was free, because I used some of the frequent-flier miles I have accumulated. First class, no less!

Now count with me from 1 to 10 and exhale ... bloody mother@#&^%# Emirates! I checked my backpack in Athens on the way to Dubai on July 22nd. They were supposed to transfer it to my Iran Air flight to Tehran the next day. Lo and behold, there was no luggage on my arrival in Tehran. This was a major hassle for me, as I was scheduled to go straight from the airport to the foot of Mount Damavand on the same day and start my climb on the next. Given my limited time, I had no choice but to file a report with Iran Air, go to the mountain without my luggage, and rent my clothing and gear from my guide, a $50 damage to my wallet.

I called Iran Air as soon as I came back from Mount Damavand on the 27th. After about 15 minutes of listening to the phone ring, being put on hold, and hearing a long-winded explanation, I was told that I would be better off just picking up my luggage in Dubai when I came back. That would be four days later, which meant I had to shop for new shirts, underwear and socks, because I had been wearing the same clothes I arrived in five days ago. (That was the longest stretch of time I wore the same items of clothing straight without taking them off.)

Flying back to Dubai on the evening of the 31st, I had five hours to nag Emirates about my luggage before heading to London. Apparently, one of their ground crew had put in the computer system that my luggage had been transferred to Iran Air, but they failed to physically do so. They offered an awful lot of excuses, the most outrageous being they didn't have enough time to transfer my backpack between the two aircraft. I was on a 12-hour layover! They had half a day to move one bag from one plane to another plane! In the same airport! I nearly blew my top upon hearing this, but in my typical character, I simply took a deep breath and said it calmly but firmly. Other excuses were given, and I ended up feeling sorry for the person I was dealing with because he was miserably covering for his incompetent colleagues. He suggested that to speed things up, I could look for my luggage in their storage myself – and then he realized it wasn't feasible because it meant I would have to get out of passport control and I didn't have a proper visa. With that, he promised that their luggage crew would look for my backpack and transfer it to my British Airways flight.

Needless to say, that didn't happen either. Without really thinking, I asked British Airways if they could message Emirates to send my bag to London. The staff seemed to be accommodating of my request, and asked for my file reference number. Looking it up in their system, the BA staff saw that the file case had been closed – it said the bag was transferred to Iran Air and that if it was really missing, then my only recourse was to chase Iran Air. For a while, I thought he even gave me a look as though I was making up a lost-luggage story to make a fake claim. Wanker! My other option was to go to the Emirates counter, but it was in another terminal. At that point, I had lost my patience to narrate the snafu perpetrated by the stupid bumbling Emirates ground crew in Dubai, and so I said to myself, Fine, I will just deal with it when I get back there – again – for my final trip home.

Back in Dubai on the morning of August 6th, Emirates told me the same story: that the luggage was in Dubai, that perhaps the claim tag had been accidentally removed so it never got to London, that they were going to look for it, and that they were going to load it in my Emirates flight home. As expected, it didn't turn up. So I went to the luggage-services desk at my home airport and asked them to deal with it with Emirates.

Just hours ago, I called the airport people and received promising news: Emirates found a "definite match" of my lost luggage, but offered no word of when they would send it to me. The airline flies here once a day – if all goes well, the soonest my bag would get here is Thursday morning. To be honest, I am ready to charge everything to experience, after claiming with insurance, of course. Perhaps I wouldn't be having this problem had I taken the costlier Emirates flight to Tehran instead of the cheap Iran Air. You live, you learn. But R is getting positive vibes, and I sure hope she's right.

Watch this space.

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