CAIRO, Egypt — The Jews wandered the deserts of Egypt for 40 years. It took me nearly that long — 31 years — to get back after my first visit, the lion’s share of that time feeling as if it took place in the last 30 of those hours.
It was not a smooth ride. The checkin girl (can I say girl?) at KIX Airport in Osaka said she couldn’t check my bag through to Cairo because I had booked the Istanbul to Cairo leg on a separate ticket. Well, she tried to tell me that.
“Not going to happen,” I said firmly, not letting her finish. “That bag will be checked to Cairo.”
Then her supervisor piped in.
“Thank you for flying Turkish Airlines,” she started. I felt like I was having a live, in-person telephone call with customer service. “We’ve had problems with bags connecting, so…”
“My bag is going to Cairo.”
“But you’ll have to sign a paper…”
They checked the bag through to Cairo. The problem, they said, was that transferred bags with Egypt Air often don’t make the flights. “But you’re a codeshare. And I bought these tickets on Turkish Airlines website. I paid you money…to get me and my bag to Cairo.”
I got my boarding pass, my baggage claim ticket, and free aggravation as a bonus. I was on my way. And I never did sign “that paper.”
I stepped on board only to realize the bulkhead seat I had twice confirmed actually had a row built in last minute in front of it. Annoyed, I told the flight crew, and in the end, I got the seat I had initially been promised.
5:30 a.m. Arrival at Istanbul. Departure to Cairo: 1:00 p.m. Round about 8:00 a.m., I checked with the reception staff at the Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance) lounge to see if my bag was in the system.
“Yes, sir. It’s fine.”
So I spent the next 5 hours relaxing. Then I went to the gate to board my flight, but not without checking once more to see the status of my bag.
“It’s not here. I think it’s still in Japan.”
“My bag is going to Cairo.”
I had to make a swift decision: go to Cairo without a bag and hope to make a claim there, or go a day late to Cairo and sort it out in Istanbul. The final leg of my Jewish Africa photo tour quickly unravelling flashed through my head. I opted for the latter. I was glad I did.
I ran — literally moving people out of the way with forceful “excuse mes” — from one end of the terminal to the other. I went back to a Turkish Airlines help desk. (Help desk? I think it should be called the Aggravation Desk.)
I quickly explained. “Yes, your bag is on the flight to Cairo.”
“But they told me it’s not….”
What to do? I started running back to the gate when suddenly I hear, “Mr. David! Mr. David.”
It was the two jerky Egypt Air agents who had been unhelpful at the gate — the ones who insisted my bag must still be in Osaka. The ones who put the blame on Turkish Airlines. “The gate is closed. The plane has gone.”
I breathed deeply and said, “Please. I. Need. Your. Help.”
They went with me to the Turkish Aggravation Desk. A discussion ensued, a call was made, a search was set in motion. A few minutes later, someone called back. Voila. My bag had been found. So much for it still being in Japan.
“I will put you on the 5:15 p.m. flight, ok?”
“Yes, so long as my bag really is going to Cairo.”
I retreated to the lounge once more, and made myself comfortable. But I started feeling uncomfortable when it dawned on me: if I missed this Cairo leg, will the other 4 legs on this same ticket automatically be cancelled?
I panicked all over again. I went to the reception of the lounge. Three stooges later, and after demanding I get a printed proof, no, the other flights will not be cancelled.
So, airborne at last. My bag and I were finally going to Cairo. We landed. I was met as planned by the pickup service by none other than…wait for it…Mohammed. (What are the odds?)
We passed immigration. No problem. We went to the baggage claim. I saw my bag immediately.
I hugged it.
Then I realized one of the “feet” had come off exposing the razor sharp screws that were supposed to hold the rubber cover on. Oy. We went to the Office of Baggage Aggravation. I was told the airline will send me a check for $150 in about a month’s time.
“Well,” I thought. “That was a waste of ink and paper.”
Finally, I took a breath of Cairo’s freshest air. Oh, it was good to be back.
“How long is the ride to the hotel,” I asked Mo.
“About an hour.” Ok, better pee first then.
Two excruciating traffic choked hours later, exhausted, drained, nearly beside myself, I was at last at the hotel. I was pretty sure we had driven down every single Cairo street.
I don’t remember too many of the finer details of my trip to Egypt in March 1985, but I knew that the Barcelo Pyramids Hotel — while not exactly sheer luxury — was luxury compared to where ever I stayed three decades and a year ago. It was in Aswan, after all, that I stayed in the cheapest hotel I ever stayed in…US$0.50. That’s not a typo.
So, here we were — just my bag and me in Cairo.
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