I've Joined the Infamous Lost Luggage Club at Tel Aviv Airport

‘We have no idea if and when your suitcase will show up. But don’t lose hope,’ is the official reply I got after landing at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport

Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
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Lost luggage waiting for their owners at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Lost luggage waiting for their owners at Ben-Gurion Airport.Credit: Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder

I, too, have become a statistic. No, not of COVID (that is so 2020), but of the lost luggage club.

Yes, I made the fatal mistake: I didn’t make do with a carry-on that I could vigilantly keep my eye on. Instead, I played aviation roulette and sent a suitcase down into the belly of the plane, down that black hole that swallows up dreams, personal items and gifts for the children.

In short, we returned from Porto but our suitcase did not. At the Baggage Service Office, they checked on the computer and said that, based on what they were seeing, the suitcase was indeed on the plane. But another circuit around the carousel and the entire arrivals hall – and then one more time – was in vain. Two hours later, we filled in the lost baggage form and headed home.

Our first resolution, direct from Buddhist philosophy: There is no reason to be defeated by the upsetting situation and lose your temper at the airline company gods. This will not retrieve the suitcase any faster and will only escalate the suffering of the owner of said piece of luggage – i.e., me. And maybe it will offer an opportunity for some Marie Kondo-esque magic in the closet.

A solitary suitcase awaiting collection at Ben-Gurion Airport.Credit: Moti Milrod

It worked, sort of. I headed out on a little shopping expedition, replacing a few critical items we had last seen in Porto, and then focused on counting down the days until I could fill out the airline’s online compensation form.

In the meantime, I would occasionally be reminded of yet another treasured item I would seemingly never see again. Hey, remember that black bathing suit I’d purchased with my own good money back in 2017? Baggage insurance? Of course I hadn’t bothered taking any out.

While I was waiting for a sign of life from the airline regarding the compensation claim, and practicing how to live without my favorite items, social media posts began appearing regarding the assemblage of lost luggage at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

My decision to become a good Buddhist was immediately replaced by thoughts of “And what if my suitcase is waiting for me there?” And: “At least I’d know that I’d done everything possible to find it.”

Yalla! Friday morning is a great time to try your luck at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Passengers at a busy Ben-Gurion Airport. Carry-on is the safest form of baggage this summer.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

At the airport, nobody was exactly awaiting our arrival. You could basically sum up our experience by saying there was no order, no structure, little hope. At a certain point, and thanks to a useful Facebook post, we successfully worked out which person we should approach in order to just get through the security inspection line that leads into the arrivals hall.

The scene awaiting us was one of utter chaos: several dozen people crowded by the lost-and-found counter, with all of the conveyor belts around them surrounded by pieces of lost luggage.

We mad the rounds of the hall, checking all the carousels. We walked into two rooms, where we found several dozen abandoned pieces of luggage (rumors about their foul odor were, regrettably, true). Every so often, we stumbled upon yet another stockpile of hitherto-unseen suitcases. One employee we asked for help set out on a quest for our piece of luggage in an area that was out-of-bounds to us mere mortals. She called us on a video call so we could identify the luggage. Alas, it was not ours.

We were far from alone in our hunt. With us were a few dozen other souls who returned to Israel in recent weeks without their luggage and were now trying their luck.

The pleasant demeanor and genuine effort being made by the handful of employees was at odds with the chaotic scene. A woman who flew back to Israel two weeks ago had returned to the airport for a second time, She said there were a lot more suitcases the previous week, which means that quite a few travelers had been reunited with their luggage.

She explained how when she landed without her luggage, she had been informed that it would just be a matter of a few days, and then the suitcase would be sent on to her. “I wonder who told you that,” an employee said. “I no longer say such things to people, because it’s no longer true. I’ve worked here for over six years, and I’ve never experienced this level of helplessness with the customers. The truth is, we have no idea if and when the luggage will return.

“But don’t lose hope,” she added. “It once happened that a suitcase was returned to its owner a full year later.”

Long story short: I did not find my suitcase and I did go back to practicing Buddhism. When push comes to shove, it’s a lot more effective.

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