When the taxi stopped at the departure doors of Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza Airport, I felt the increasingly familiar pang of finality. That combination of affection and attachment that precede leaving a country you can’t envisage returning to anytime soon.
I was also worried that my bag wouldn’t arrive with me, as I was flying with two different airlines and stopping off in Sao Paulo for eight hours en route to Bogota. I made my reservations known to the staff at the Qatar Airways check-in desk and they laughed off my fears.
“We do this all the time, don’t worry,” they said.
After a pleasant two-part plane journey and an uncomfortable nap zigzagged across three plastic seats in Sao Paulo’s airport, I arrived in Bogota. As my fellow passengers collected their bags and began to disappear, I felt a creeping sense of doom enter my stomach. By the time the arrivals from the later San Francisco and Havana flights had also retrieved their baggage and strolled towards the exit, I was resigned to defeat. I opted to explore the duty free shop for ten minutes and hope my bag had miraculously appeared afterwards.
As I browsed the aisles of booze, I could sense I was being stalked by a bookish sales attendant. I acknowledged him and let it be known I did not require any assistance at this particular juncture.
I settled upon a $12 litre bottle of Medellin rum; a respected and established brand which would have cost double on the high street.
“Ooh no,” he said with a shake of his bespectacled head. “This one’s better,” and pointed at a bottle packaged in a golden cuboid.
“I would assume so, yeah. It’s 80 dollars. It’s also whisky.” I was struggling to mask my frustration.
“But if you buy two, the second ones half price?” He replied in a tone that implied I hadn’t appreciated quite how good a deal this was.
“Oh, so just 120 dollars?”
“Wait a minute,” he pulled a calculator out of his pocket.
“Sorry, just a minute,” he raised a hand to stop me as I attempted to approach the till. He punched in the necessary numbers. “That’s 120 dollars,” he confirmed.
“Yeah, this is 12.” I walked towards the till.
“That’s cheaper,” he agreed, following me.
“Yup. Roughly a tenth.” I gave my credit card and boarding pass to the cashier.
The bookish attendant punched some more digits into his calculator and smiled at the result. “Exactly a tenth!”
I arrived back at the empty Baggage Reclaim Conveyer Belt 2 and admitted defeat. I went to the information booth and explained my predicament. They took the details of my hotel, apologised and promised to deliver my rucksack later that evening, or the next morning at latest. Disheartened, I skulked away then stopped, as I suddenly realised I was probably entitled to compensation. I queued again and informed them that I would be missing a wedding beacuse of their incompetence and required reimbursement as a result. They asked for my boarding pass, stamped it with a sticker and directed me to a pokey office booth outside.
I explained my predicament to the suits at Avianca customer service, Colombia’s national carrier and the airline responsible for ensuring the safe transit of my luggage between Sao Paulo and Bogota. I re-mentioned my mystery wedding and gave some vague and generally unconvincing reasons why their temporary loss of my bag meant I was now unable to attend.
They nodded apologetically and asked for my boarding pass. “Were your toiletries in the bag?”
“Yes,” I replied, and a lady handed me an Avianca branded washbag complete with toothbrush, toothpaste, mini aftershave and facewipes. She picked up a pen and began copying details from my boarding pass onto the top sheet of a stack of forms. Then, she opened the drawer of her desk, counted out 80 dollars into an envelope, scribbled over the sticker on my boarding pass and returned it to me.
“Sorry for the inconvenience sir, the bag will be at your hotel as soon as possible,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it.” I said, wondering whether I should return to the duty free shop and purchase the golden cuboid of whisky.