Disaster in Istanbul Airport – Lost (but not Found)

Having too many pieces of carry-on luggage is, not only inconvenient, but also an open invitation for disasters such as theft or loss. And considering the kind of stuff people carry in their hand baggage, while travelling (passports, important paperwork and expensive equipment) getting involuntarily separated from any of the above would easily end up being clasified as ‘a disaster’ on all sorts of scales.

We had experienced this once in Prague Airport while headed to Dublin. Somewhere in the middle of  the flight, we realized that our camera bag, stuffed to the brim with brand new, expensive photographic equipment was not there. A trace back of the events before boarding the plane reminds us that we never collected the bag from the security scan at the gate. Long story short, it involved lots of international phone calls and transfers between the different desks in Prague Airport, but the bag was found and waited for us ten long days before we could collect it on the way back home. It was a 90% happy ending sans the fact that someone stole our harddisk with my only copies of photo memories I cannot reproduce.

Unfortunately, four years later, it happened again. One of our bags disappeared on our way from the terminal bus of Istanbul Airport and the CIP lounge. Hubs’ laptop computer, home keys, car keys, Miss Z. original birth certificate, along with some clothing and medications – all gone! Gone was also a non-refundable paper ticket for the flight Tokyo – Jeju, that we were supposed to board in four days. The damage from the loss of the above was measured in thousands, but in cases like this I try not to dwell on things I cannot change, as long as we are healthy and alive. I nearly lost it, however, at a later point, when I realized that my International Driving Permit was too among the things missing.

I’ve previously explained the importance of and the great lengths we needed to go through, in order to get the IDP. Outside of the few large cities we were going to explore on foot, the rest of the trip entirely revolved around driving between multiple destinations; transporting ouselves between one arrival airport to another departure airport, hundreds of miles apart, sightseeing on islands with virtually no public transportation and an expensive taxi network. Without having an IDP, we were going to be so severely inconvenienced, that we would have spent our entire time trying to just move ourselves from point A to point B, rather than see the things we have come so far for.

Amazingly, when we first sent the application for the IDP to our friend in the US, we included two copies of all paperwork (just in case)! Our only chance was to go through the process of issuing another IDP as soon as possible. I contacted my friend and he was happy to help, but as luck had it, it was a Friday right before a three day weekend (most businesses close on Labor Day Monday). That effectively meant the IDP application could not possibly make it to the issuing authority in California before Tuesday, four long days from today. If we budgeted another 24 hours for processing the application and the same for an international overnight  courier, while taking into account the fact that we were 16 hours ahead of California, it turned out we were looking at a week of waiting, IF nothing goes wrong.

And even a week of waiting would have been fine if we were staying at the same hotel the entire time. But we were hopping from one destination to another every couple of days and trying to time the receipt of the new IDP was not an easy task. Based on my estimates, it was most probable to arrive while in Seoul, which was fortunate, because I had a friend there whose address I could use for the courier.

It entailed a hundred and twenty bucks, lots of coordination and nervous anticipation, emails to California, New Jersey and Seoul and the closest tracking of DHL (you wouldn’t believe the number of illogical destinations a parcel can go through for 48hrs), but the new IDP was in our hands exactly as planned, in Seoul!

Meanwhile, at Istanbul Airport, we hit walls everywhere we asked for help. Most staff we came accross merely shrugged their shoulders off in indifference, and the few that wanted to help, couldn’t because of the language barrier. If this post wasn’t getting so long already, I would have shared the tragi-comical ‘lost in translation’ conversations I eavesdropped on while hanging by the transfer desk. What seemed like twenty people were wandering mindlessly behind the desk like they had no business more important than conversing among each other. Of these perhaps one or two knew English, decent enough to provide people with directions to the next elevator.

It took some time for them to understand why I don’t want to show them the baggage tags of the bag I had missing. ‘No, thank you, it doesn’t have a tag, it’s a carry-on bag, not a checked bag’. Followed a five minute conversation in Turkish and then I was told that I should talk to the lost & found in Tokyo as soon as I arrive there! I took a breath and reiterated the fact that the bag would never go to Tokyo if we didn’t find it first. They asked for my passport, looked through all pages, like they were hoping to see my lost luggage jump from there, and in another five minutes told me they had no idea where it was.

Indeed, we exhausted all of our search venues during the four hours of layover and our bag was gone forever. As a result, I developed another air travel OCD trait – counting our pieces of carry-on luggage every fifteen minutes in hopes that I never have to go through this again.


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