I envisioned arriving at the Chennai airport, breezing through the business class check in line, passing through customs one last time, and then heading for the lounge to guzzle free water until it was time to pass through security to my gate. Just to be sure that this plan worked out, in spite of the hot humid temperature and lack of air conditioning at the airport, I elected to wear Chris’ hooded sweatshirt through this process to avoid questions about being pregnant.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
No. I didn’t get stopped for being pregnant. Instead I was held up for any and every other reason imaginable. Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for the first time ever I was glad to have arrived at the airport two hours early because I needed every minute of those two hours.
First stop: Check-in.
I rolled my three checked bags, Continental’s maximum allowed number for international business class, up to the counter. All of them weighed in ok, were tagged, and I thought I was about to be on my way until the agent said that I would need to go to the Lufthansa office to pay my €150 fee.
Wait. My what?
The first leg of my trip was a Continental/Lufthansa code share. My ticket was purchased through Continental.com, but the Lufthansa baggage policy was being enforced.
I began to protest. €150 is a lot of money! Finally they agreed to set my bags aside and verify Continental’s policy.
My waiting began. I stood, in the non-air conditioned airport, sweat drenched in Chris’ hoodie, for thirty long minutes waiting for some person in the Lufthansa back office to check Continental’s baggage policy. Finally, the ticketing agent’s radio crackled to life. ‘She must pay.’
I protested. I spent the next twenty minutes talking to the ticketing agent’s manager, then his manager, trying to get them to call Continental or Lufthansa customer service. Somehow I was making zero progress and they were beginning to close down the check-in windows. ‘Ma’am, you must pay or pick one bag to leave behind.’ Right, just leave the black one, I didn’t want to bring that stuff home anyway.
Frustrated, I was led to a tiny office in a typically inaccessible corner of the airport to pay my baggage fee. ‘€150?’ I questioned. There was a pile of receipts for bags on my flight that were all for the amount of €50. ‘Why is my extra bag three times the price of the other extra bags?’
‘Ma’am, business class extra bags cost more because you can afford to pay more.’
‘Are you serious? I paid five times as much for my ticket and you thank me for that by charging me three times as much for an extra bag that is within the policy of the airline who I purchased the ticket from? Can we call Continental customer service?’
‘No ma’am. This is Lufthansa.’
‘Can we call Lufthansa customer service?’
‘No. That is a daytime job, they do not open until Europe daytime.’
‘Is there anyone else here who I can talk to?’
‘No. You must pay €150. Your flight boards soon.’
I paid. I was furious, red faced, sweat pouring down my face, through my hair, dripping down my back. I was still wearing Chris’ hoodie just in case. The guys in the Lufthansa office must have thought that I was a nutcase.
I made my way through customs and had approximately five minutes to grab some cold water in the lounge before it was time to head to my gate. As I slumped into a chair, de-hoodied, and had just loaded the Continental baggage policy website onto my phone to double check myself, my favorite ticketing agent tapped me on the shoulder.
‘Ma’am, there is a security problem with one of your bags.’
My mind was racing. What could I possibly have packed that wasn’t even checkable? Nothing registered. I tried to show him the baggage policy, but he refused to even look at it. We headed into the back of the airport to investigate my unauthorized cargo.
‘Please open the bag.’
I complied. I proceeded to pull out the first pointy, ‘sharp’ item in question, explaining that it was my camera tripod and no, it did not contain batteries. The baggage inspector did his best to take it apart to ensure that there were no batteries in it.
Next up was explaining that the mass of ‘wires’ in my bag were not wires, but tent poles. Before I knew it I was pitching a tent in the underground of the airport to demonstrate what it was and that it was not dangerous. Not kidding, I wish I were.
I looked nervously at the time. My flight was supposed to be boarding and I was on the wrong side of security.
The security guy asked if the belts I had in my bag contained metal. [I bought a few cheap belts in Indonesia last week.] I don’t think so? They are just wood, beads, and fishing line.
Finally, we examined the two headlamps that I had in the bag. Yes, they did contain batteries. No, the security guy did not want to confiscate the batteries. I am still not sure why my nonexistent tripod batteries would not be ok, but headlamp batteries are. I suppose that it doesn’t matter. I was finally free to repack the bag and make a frenzied beeline through the airport.
I made it through security just in time to learn that my flight was delayed. Of course it was, but naturally all of the passengers were already queued for boarding anyway. I joined the line, hair soaking wet, still sweating like I had just finished a run, wearing my hoodie to ensure that there would be no snafus with boarding, and stood waiting for twenty minutes until I could get on the plane, sit down, and feel the sweet relief of air conditioning.
Later today I will be calling both Lufthansa and Continental in attempt to get my money back, but I doubt I have much recourse now that it has already been paid. I wish that I had checked both airlines’ baggage policies, but it didn’t even occur to me ahead of time. Disappointingly, I could have shipped all of that stuff home for free with our household contents, I was just trying to take some of the packing burden off of Chris. Surely there was one bag worth of stuff that I could live without until January.
On a more positive note, I will be home to New Jersey later today and I will finally be finished dealing with unexpected annoyances at the Chennai airport.