Note: This entry will be more meaningful and interesting to those who have read the previous entry, “Sweaty Panic in Istanbul.” If you can see the double arrow pointing to the left, near the title of this entry, you can click it and read the previous post. Two for the price of one!

 

When one of the men working and talking behind counter J made eye contact with me and nodded, he was on the phone. The couple with their own problems was still there, and other men were milling in and out, all talking to the phone-man, who was about 40, in a white shirt, and who seemed to be a supervisor. “I have missed my flight!” I said. He was still engaged in conversation on the phone but he did look at me with mild interest. Keeping the English simple, I said, “Help!”

He put the phone down briefly and asked where I’d come from that day.

“Budapest,” I said.

“Was it late?” he said.

“No,” I admitted. “It wasn’t a bit late. I forgot about the time change.” I showed him my watch, which said 5.10 pm, the correct time in Budapest. Although Budapest was on another continent, it had been only about a two-hour flight away, fooling this savvy traveler into thinking she was still in the same time zone.

“It is your fault,” he said.

“Yes, absolutely my fault,” I agreed. “Completely. Is there another flight?”

He told me I had to go first to the ticket office – he gestured far away from him, back on the other side of the security barrier I had just breached – and then go to collect my baggage and then check in for the next flight, if there was one that night. This sequence of actions, I knew, would be impossible for me. It had taken me fifteen minutes to establish with the proper authorities that I’d missed my flight; the idea of repositioning and reconfiguring my luggage and myself onto another one was beyond me. “Can you help me?” I begged.

Clearly, he could see that I was incapable of managing my own crisis. “Errol!” he shouted into the phone, at me, and towards a crowd of blue-uniformed people milling outside the roped area.  No one moved, so he repeated, louder each time, “Errol! Errol! ERROL!” When hapless Errol finally heard and came to the booth, the supervisor spoke to him in Turkish, explaining that I was an imbecile who needed to be taken out of his sight, or else I would stay whining at booth J for the rest of my life. He pointed far, far away.

The supervisor came out from behind the desk in order to nudge me out of the red-roped area, like a Border Collie herding a particularly stupid, recalcitrant sheep. When I was nearly out of reach, he looked sternly down his long furry nose and said, “It is your fault.” Behind this brief assertion spoken in English, in his eyes there were several invisible small-print paragraphs in Turkish, explaining that in the case of a passenger missing a flight due to his/her own negligence, he/she would forfeit 100% of the paid airfare plus taxes and fees; and any further travel would necessitate the purchase a new ticket prior to the time of departure. Correspondence would not be entered into.

The figure “350 Euros” jumped into my mind, because I’d been checking last-minute airfares the day before and had seen how high they were. I’d have to not buy anything else for the rest of my time in Europe, or maybe the rest of the year.

“Your fault,” he said, and pointed into the distance, like an Irish Setter/ Springer-spaniel sheepdog herding Eve from the red-roped Garden.

Chastened, I went with my appointed attendant-carer. Errol, bless him, was not blessed with a countenance indicative of high intelligence, but rather had a full-cheeked, long-nosed face without a visible mouth.  I sensed that he would have extremely limited English comprehension, but I smiled engagingly at his back as he took me past the security checkpoint via the passageway for VIPs, airline crewmembers, and American idiots. He led me silently to a Turkish Airlines ticketing desk, and we did not have to stand in line to speak to the woman working there. “I missed my flight,” I lamented.

The woman in the blue headscarf looked bemused, as if to ask, why was I telling her this? “OK,” she said.

I showed her my itinerary – in English – and she looked at it awhile before asking, “What airport?”

“Right now?” I said, stupidly. “Istanbul. Going to Navsehir.”

“No, today airport.”

“Oh! Today I came from, um, Budapest.” I hesitated because for the past week I’d been mixing up the names “Budapest” and “Istanbul.” This confusion had resulted in my actually purchasing the wrong bus ticket from Sofia, buying and walking away with a ticket for Turkey when I’d mean to ask for one to Hungary (I’d thought it was very cheap!) and my informing an editor at JETSETTER that my Budapest buddy, Ryan, was an expert on Istanbul. “Hungary,” I added, just to make sure.

“Budapest?”

“Yes,” I said, in my basic-English-for-second-language-speaker-syntax, which is free of all tenses other than the present. “Already. I come here from Budapest. Now go to Navsehir.”

She shook her head and said that there were no flights out tonight to Navsehir, but there was one to Kaiseri. “Great,” I said, hoping that Kaiseri was near Sacred House. “I’ll take it.”

She said something else I didn’t understand, and I asked her to repeat it. The second time, I thought she said, “Budapest flight today?”

“Yes.” I repeated. “Today I come from Budapest.”

“Budapest flight today?” I thought she said.

Yes,” I said, emphatically.

“OK.” She bent her veiled head over my boarding pass. As she typed, I realized that her previous question had been not, “Budapest flight today?” but “Budapest flight too late?” or possibly “Budapest flight delayed?” and I had just unknowingly misinformed her that my flight had been late, and therefore – she had thought – I was entitled to a free ticket on a later flight to my destination. Or so I thought she thought; I’ll never know. A more ethical person would have interrupted her work to disabuse her; I let her go ahead and issue me a free change.

Then Errol led me down a lift and through many passages to the baggage claim area in the domestic arrivals hall. Naturally, my bag was not there. My bag, as I understood it, had been checked through to Navsehir, because I had not needed clear customs there in Istanbul. I had verified that fact on board the plane with an actual blue-kerchiefed TA employee who spoke English, and I was confident that she had not misled me. There was no possibility of my bag being in the domestic hall, unless someone on the TA flight 2020 that I had missed had removed my bag from the hold when I did not show up. Despite its many security measures, I doubted that the airline would have the efficiency required to have taken that step. I waited 30 seconds, peering intently at the 3 suitcases circling around, before telling my escort that my bag was not there, no, definitely.

Looking forlorn, and seeming younger every time I looked at him, Errol – really more a boy than a man — led me back up the lift and back to the handsome and busy supervisor, who was again on the phone and engrossed in several urgent face-to-face conversations. Errol proved that he had a mouth and demonstrated his ability at speaking and getting attention, and the supervisor said to me – in between statements in Turkish to other people — that my bag must be in the international terminal’s baggage hall.

I said that this was unlikely, because the bag had been checked through to Navsehir, which was as he knew a domestic airport.

“You should pick it up,” he said. “Customs.”

“But I thought I  could go through customs in Navsehir!” I protested. “I looked it up, on the plane. In the magazine. With a Turkish Airlines flight attendant.”

This was clearly too much English information, and after a pause in which the supervisor studied first a copy of the inflight magazine I’d mentioned, and then  the departures board, showing my plane for Nevsehir leaving at 7.30 pm, less than an hour away, he repeated that I must go back to the international terminal, find and retrieve my bag, and bring it to him – he personally would check me in and see that my bag got on the correct plane. And then his second phone rang.

“I don’t think my bag is there,” I complained, as he began a new conversation. “And I don’t have time before the flight closes.” I had learnt that flights close 15 minutes before take-off.

Something huge whacked the back of my leg — my BAD leg, and it buckled and I almost fell down before I grabbed the counter for support. I yelped “OW!” in an American, unseemly manner, and turned to see an embarrassed-looking Turkish man moving away with his baggage cart full of heavy suitcases, the one he’d just stopped by running into my person. “Pardon,” he said, but I was still aggrieved and in pain.

The supervisor, of course, had not noticed the man from the crowd: from his (limited) point of view, all he knew was that I’d screamed, fallen onto the counter, looked away, and now looked even more upset. I WAS more upset — the man had banged his cart into my BAD leg, which now hurt even more than before.

“Mush-hurry,” the supervisor said, and then went back to Turkish. So mush-hurry I did, following the ever-receding back of Errol, through corridors, down lifts, through throngs of people and past more security points, and into those small discreet doorways marked “Airport Staff Only” which require a passkey and from which no one ever seems to emerge.

I haven’t looked on Google Maps to see how far it is between the distant ends of TA domestic terminal and Istanbul international terminal, but I’m guessing it’s about twice as far as the length of the sidewalk linking LAX’s four terminals. It seemed about half a mile. It took us a 10 or 15 minutes to walk it , and I was hobbling as fast as I could to stay up with my guide.

I couldn’t figure out if Errol was walking quickly because that was his natural pace, or because he felt obliged to walk a few paces ahead of me, the woman. As I kept catching up behind him (my left knee hurting with every step, my left heel making me limp), he would speed up and stay just ahead. We were walking twice as fast as I usually stroll and five times as fast as I would have been bearable for me with my current knee injury and recent heel damage.

Adding to my discomfort were three factors: 1) The previous night, I’d removed the taping that supports my left knee, because I thought I’d spend the next day on airplanes and would not be walking much; 2) I was carrying my backpack full of my valuables (notebook computer, camera, wallet, two passports, writing pad, about 15 pens) plus what my friend Sarah calls electro-excrement: the massive plug/adapter combo for my computer, the cables to connect my camera and computer, and chargers for everything; 3) It was hot, and I, who never sweat even at the gym, had a shiny drippy face and icky stains spreading across my fresh clothing.

As I limped along, keeping an eye on Errol’s blue and sweat-free back, I thought some more about Sy, and my friend Miho. I wondered how they’d handle the situation, and I realized that they wouldn’t be in this situation, because neither of them is overweight. So then I felt guilty and ashamed as well as out of breath and in pain.

As we went through the final security check the wrong way, the old man guarding the exit required my passport. This made me stop and rummage through my carryon for a good couple of minutes, wasting valuable time. I was further worried when the man took the passport and did not give it back.  I made the international sign for “Give me my passport back; I need it and you cannot have it; it is the property of the US government and I will die here in the airport if I lose it,” and Errol said, in English, “Bag. Passport. Exit.”  He pointed at three relevant areas of the terminal as he spoke, and I understood or hoped him to mean that after I’d collected my bag, I’d then get my passport back and would be allowed to exit the area. I didn’t believe that the guard would necessarily be there by the time we came back, but I had another passport in my bag. The Australian one had not been stamped with entry into Europe, but that seemed a small matter compared to missing my next flight. We moved on.

At the baggage claims area, my guide stopped in front of one of the carousels – I think he chose it randomly – and gestured for me to look. My bags were – quelle surprise – not on it. Then we went to the lost luggage office, where I twice examined the forty or so bags that were lost, but not mine. We then mush-hurried (me limping, him leading) over to yet another supervisor’s office, where my new best friend gave the usual rehearsal of facts (or fiction) about my situation. The conversation went on for so long that I found a free chair and fell into it, my leg throbbing. I regretted packing my aspirin in my checked baggage. In fact I regretted packing anything in my checked baggage.

After some time, the supervisor pointed in a direction far, far away from himself and said to me in mushy English: “Will search baggage.” After a little more discourse the guide and I walked out to the nearest baggage carousel, and he stopped there and indicated that I should look for my luggage. This seemed a ridiculous waste of time. There were only about 3 suitcases on the carousel, and none was mine. Furthermore, the baggage supervisor had not made a phone call or spoken to anyone else since my guide had explained my situation. Even if the supervisor had, the instant we’d left his office, summoned someone to search for my bag, and even if that person were miraculously efficient, it would not be possible for my bag already to be on the carousel.

It was 6.50 pm. If I was not at my gate at the far end of the other terminal in 25 minutes, the flight would close, I’d have to get another ticket on the next one out, and I would be doomed to an endless loop of missing planes, lying about it to get a ticket on the following flight, being told I had to get my bag before I could check in, and limping back and forth along the airport’s corridors for the rest of my life

“My. Bag. Not. Here.” I said, over-enunciating in the hopes that Errol would suddenly understand English. “No. Bag.”

The guide pointed to the mouth of the carousel, the top of the little black ramp whence luggage comes tumbling forth, if there is any. In this case the black rubber conveyor belt glided out flat and empty, metre after metre of it, as my head grew tighter around my brain. “No,” I said. “No bag.”

Errol continued to point, indicating a faith in the abilities of the supervisor, or maybe Allah, that I did not share. I knew my bag wasn’t going to come down that chute, and I knew that I had 20 minutes left to hobble back to where I’d come, get a boarding pass, and get my plane. I didn’t care if I never saw my clothes again.  “Not. Here.” I said. “It’s not here and it’s not going to be here and I really really need to get on my flight, so please will you take me back to the other terminal now? Go back. Have to. Go. Back.”

Errol nodded and continued to gaze upwards, hopefully. At that point the carousel shuddered and then stopped moving, and without actually saying out loud, “See?” I indicated with grunts and shrugs and pointing fingers that any further attempt to retrieve my luggage was hopeless and that as I’d suggested earlier, my bag was not forthcoming and we should to return to the other terminal quick-smart.  Errol, looking downcast, walked away in the direction I pointed, and I followed, trying to keep up.

After getting my passport back from the guard, Errol tried to point me far, far away from him, but I said, loudly, “No! You must come! I will get lost!” To my relief, he laughed and came with me, leading me once again back to where my plane was being refueled and restocked and, probably, re-boarded with passengers. We took a different route back to the supervisor’s desk, and I was glad my guide had come because I’d never have found my way.

As it happened, though, the so-helpful supervisor who had organized the whole excursion was gone, and so my new Turkish boyfriend, Errol,  had to re-explain the situation to someone new.

This man, too, had dark hair and dark eyes and a neat uniform with a commanding white shirt and a small cell phone at his ear. He looked in many respects like the supervisor who had been there earlier, and he also thought I should go and get my bag before boarding my flight. “I don’t have time!” I said. “It will close in a few minutes!”

He ignored me and continued talking to Errol and various other people. About once every minute, I’d interject, “I have to get to my gate!” like a cuckoo clock, and they’d ignore me some more.

When it was 7.05 pm I interrupted firmly. “I don’t care about the bag,” I said. “I have to get on this flight. I missed the last one; I can’t miss this one too. We’ll deal with the bag later.”  It was not the first time I’d suggested that we file a report and have someone search for my luggage later, but it was the first time that anyone had responded to the idea. The new supervisor looked relieved. He nodded, and strung together a few English phrases indicating that when I was far, far away, in Kaiseri Airport in fact, I should go to the luggage office and report my missing bag. An excellent idea, one I’d been thinking of for the last hour or two…

I asked for the man’s business card, so that when I got to Kaiseri the baggage authorities could call someone who could explain, but he looked upset and refused to give me his name. I think he thought I was going to have him arrested.

However, I did manage to get my next flight’s gate number from him – 107, he said, and so I started off towards it, stopping only to shake hands with Errol, the kind underling who’d mush-hurried me around the airport. I thanked him in my best (in fact my only) Turkish. He touched his heart and looked concerned; I’m sure I looked the same way.

The flight wasn’t at gate 107, but it was within sight, at gate 105. As I panted up to the waiting area, I could see that no one was boarding and the door had not yet been opened to admit passengers. It was about 7.12 pm and I rushed into the ladies’ room next to the gate. I spent a maximum of 2 or possibly 2 and ½ minutes in there, washing off the sweat, and when I came out, they were doing last call for my flight. The last few people were passing by the counter; I was the final person to board, and the most grateful passenger Turkish Airways has ever known.

 Post-script: At Kaiseri Airport, the reporting of the missing bag didn’t go so smoothly. I’m not going to blog about it.

Suffice to say that the next morning, as I returned from my ballooning expedition and sat down on the terrace for breakfast, the manager – who had already rung TA half a dozen times that day, using her influence and her contacts and her impeccable Turkish and manners to get someone to pay attention and find my bag — called me to look at the street down below. There was a man opening the back of a white minivan, and from it he was taking my bag. The staff at Sacred House had it in my room within minutes.