The trivialities of travels

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

Murphy’s Law states: If something can go wrong, it will.   This is especially true when you are traveling abroad. Some of those that bound to happen include flight cancellations, delayed flights, lost or delayed luggage, and being singled out before entering your flight. 

 

Speaking of lost luggage, here’s what Jerry Rankin has to say: “As much as I travel it’s amazing it doesn’t happen more often.  But when it does, the emotional reaction is surprising.  To arrive at your destination without your luggage and necessary belongings is more than disappointing.”

 

At one time, Rankin – who is the president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States – lost his luggage on a short flight from Calcutta, India to Dhaka, Bangladesh.  “It had apparently been routed on a flight leaving about the same time to Chittagong,” he surmised.

 

Because his itinerary had him moving on to Bangkok (Thailand), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and Jakarta (Indonesia), the prospects were unlikely the bag would ever catch up with him.   He left contact addresses in each place, but he never heard anything.  The airport in Calcutta is named “Dum-Dum International Airport.”  He wrote numerous letters trying to retrieve his bag; in one he wrote, “Dear Sirs, your airport is appropriately named.”

 

Rankin continued to inquire in various airports on subsequent trips and each time the records showed that the bag had been forwarded.  “Three months later, I was back in Jakarta, and the baggage office knew nothing about my suitcase,” he recalled.  “I asked if I could look in the baggage storage area.  I was confronted with a mountain of dust-covered luggage.  There on the edge of the pile was my bag!  The luscious ripe plums I was bringing from India to friends in Bangladesh were still inside!”

 

Of course, there are also those unexpected moments which are harrowing and yet hilarious. 

Don Rutledge, one of America’s most awarded photojournalists, and his journalist friend were seated aboard a plane bound for mainland China from Hong Kong.  His friend was sitting next to an emergency exit door and Rutledge was sitting next to him in the aisle seat.

 

A flight attendant came to their seat row and asked Rutledge’s friend, “Pardon me, sir, but can you open this door?”  She, of course, meant if he could open the door in case of an emergency.  “Yes, I think so,” he answered and before she could say anything, he grabbed the door lever and swung it into the open position.  ( This happened when the passengers were still loading and the airplane was not moving on the runway.)

 

The door bounced out of its frame and Rutledge’s friend held it by the lever.  The attendant’s mouth flew open wide as she screamed, “I meant could you open it in case of an emergency.”  She quickly tried to help get the door back into the frame but, even together, they were unable to do so.  While he continued holding the door to keep it from falling to the pavement, she rushed to the cockpit and got the flight engineer to return the door into its proper place and reset it.  When it was already in the locked position, the flight engineer told him, “Don’t do that again.”

 

Of course, there are also thrilling stories.  This one happened to a friend, who now lives in New York.  LT (let’s just call him that way for obvious reasons) flew from San Francisco for a convention in St. Petersburg, Russia.  “We were all going to meet first in Moscow, staying there for 3 days and then go by rail overnight to St. Petersburg where the 5-day convention was to be held,” he recalled.  “My business partner in Bangkok was going to join me at the Metropolitan Hotel in Moscow.  He was going to hand me the money he owed me.”

 

The currency rule in Russia is for a tourist to declare all currency coming in and then to compare currency leaving Russia with the original declaration.  “The official form under the heading “Customs Declaration” was handed to each of us at Moscow airport upon arrival,” LT said. “We had to show this plus all currency upon leaving for comparison.”

 

When his partner entered Russia, he declared only the amount of his money and failed to include the amount he was going to give me, thinking, “Why should I declare something that is not mine.” That was pure error on his part.

 

LT’s problem was how to bring out his money which was larger than the amount he had declared coming in.  The penalty was confiscation if “huge.” (No one told them how much was huge but a businessman from London who received his commission of US$70,000 dollars was held in a cell, and his money confiscated.  As a result, he collapsed from sheer terror and exhaustion and was sent to a hospital in Moscow.  There, he could not use the underdeclared money to pay for his treatment and had to ask his London office to wire the money to him.  Otherwise, if a small amount was involved, the Customs Office would convert the underdeclared currency into their own currency called rubles which at that time were not convertible anywhere in the world.)

 

LT’s partner had some underdeclared amount — about US$130 and was given rubles in exchange for his underdeclared money.  LT had much, much more than that amount. 

 

Returning by rail to Moscow, they discussed their predicament.  “He told me he would declare his money and I would have to solve my problem,” he said.  “Leaving the hotel, I prayed to the Lord for help and the result was I made up my mind to tell the truth to the Customs Office no matter what.” 

 

It so happened that LT reached the Moscow airport 35 minutes earlier than check-in time.  He was going to line up at the check-in counter when a guard asked him what flight he was going to board.  When the guard found out that he was 35 minutes too early, he asked LT to come with him and the guard led him to a room and asked him to wait in there until he would call him.  “I was alone in the room and there were several forms stacked around me,” he said.  “Next to me was a pile of declaration forms for incoming currency. I read it again and again, and saw – yes, this is the same form! “

 

LT filled out the form with the correct figures.  Thereafter, he I went through the customs smoothly.  “I had few rubles as souvenir money in my pocket, but I was singing softly in my heart on the plane while counting it,” he remembers.

 

When traveling by air, never, never joke about bombs.  A Thai lawyer was leaving Hong Kong and was at the airport.  At the customs area, he was asked to place his carry-on bag on the inspection table and was asked, “What’s inside?” (This was done because the customs agent didn’t need to have it open and was relying on this passenger’s honesty).  Jokingly, and mouth smiling widely, he replied, “A bomb?”

 

Now, the Thai lawyer did not realize this was not a laughing matter. In two seconds flat, without uttering a word, the officer seized his hands and led him away. The next he knew, he was in a holding cell.  His flight was cancelled, passengers and pilots deplaned and led back to the airport building, and all luggage aboard unloaded for reinspection.

 

At his court trial the following day, the lawyer tried to explain that it was all a joke. The judge berated him saying, “You are a lawyer and you should take airport regulations seriously at a time when every flight is threatened by hijackers and terrorists; one year imprisonment.”

 

Do you have some other travel tales to tell?  Please do share them to me.  My email is henrytacio@gmail.com

 

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