I keep myself from meddling in my children’s lives. They see a lot of me as it is without me exerting extra effort to influence their fates or poking my nose into their business. This time I couldn’t refrain, although I asked permission first.
The Kysylyczyns, the family of my daughter Michel and her husband Sid with my grand daughters Clara and Tess, took advantage of a great air fare deal booked several months in advance on Icelandair to take an August vacation to Switzerland. They lived in Swiss Canton Zug almost four years. This was their first visit back to Switzerland since repatriating to Minneapolis two years ago.
Of course I was jealous. I love Europe and past touring with the Kysylyczyns making family memories is among my fondest highlights of my life. I would have been machtig cool to hike Rigi Kulm, swim at the Bade of Zugersee at Oberwil or gaze at the Matterhorn from Zermatt with the kids, but alas, it was not to be. Primarily I was not invited, though nobody said I couldn’t go. Rox and I essentially spent this year’s european budget remodeling our kitchen. The Kysylyczyns had friends to see and to stay with. Besides, we had all, just the month before, taken a brilliant family vacation to the American Southwest, so I had no reason to feel estranged. This was not where I butted my nose.
They did invite me to drive them to and from the airport, MSP. One the way they anticipated a good flight on Icelandair. By all accounts they heard the airline offered splendid hospitality and a little more legroom and coach comfort as you can find on a transcontinental flight. They would have to pay for food but that wasn’t different from Delta. There would be a stop at Reykjavik, where they would disembark, go through Customs (get their passports stamped Iceland) and re-board to fly to Zurich, but this was as much as flying into Amsterdam, going through Customs and boarding a regional jet on to Zurich, only the stop in Iceland was like a halftime break almost midway to each destination. For Michel, whose fear of air travel is surprisingly palpable for someone who has flown so much the airline amenities mean a lot. There would be individual movie screens, though the selection of titles were limited. She really liked the price, it made the whole excursion affordable, but she wouldn’t have chosen Icelandair if they didn’t have a customer friendly reputation.
Icelandair flies in and out of MSP at Terminal 2, once officially named the Humphrey terminal. It is the smaller and most approachable of the two terminals here. T2 — or Humphrey as some still call it — flies small airlines such as Southwest, Sun Country, Condor and Icelandair. T1 — called Lindbergh — handles some boutique carriers but mainly big ones such as Delta, American, United and Air Canada. Thus Terminal 1 Lindbergh is vastly busier, frequently jammed three lanes deep in cars vying to drop off and pick up, not to mention short and long term parking, and the car approach to T1 Lindbergh is all only freeway accessible. T2 Humphrey, on the other hand, can be easily approached even at peak times by a back road between the airport and the national cemetery, and rarely are cars more than one lane deep at the drop off and pick up curb.
We dropped the Kysylyczyns and their baggage at Humphrey under the Icelandair canopy sign, all hugs and chocolate promises. Roxanne and I nostalgically watched after them as they shouldered their carry on backpacks and everybody gripped a suitcase and glided through the automatic doors to the terminal like they were going downtown on a train. At home Roxanne and I watched the planes in the sky from our front porch thinking, off they go.
They were gone ten days. Facebook real-time post cards showed they were have a good time (when Michel and Sid could get wi-fi — deep in the Alps it was iffy or not worth the fee. Everything is expensive in Switzerland, alas.) Sentimentally I followed the weather page of the paper for conditions in Frankfurt and Geneva.
Their flight home was on time. We estimated about a half hour to get through customs and baggage claim. On the drive to pick them up we talked about Lindbergh and Humphrey, the terminals and their namesakes. At the time there was a hotel construction project next to Lindbergh causing lane closures on the freeway and a severe backup of traffic into the terminal. Glad we’re not going there, we agreed noting the smooth flow towards Humphrey. Just for conversation we eventually mused about the dropping of the terminal names in favor of mere numbers, 1 and 2. It was ostensibly done for the ease of strangers, of whom there must be many — 1 or 2 simpler to identify on freeway signs. But like many things these days a political motive can be extrapolated behind the name changes: a desire by illiberals to erase Hubert Humphrey’s name from local iconography, and a campaign to disassociate the airport from Charles Lindbergh, a vocal anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer. The nexus of these two causes resulted for the sake of simplicity in renaming the two terminals after the numbered euphemisms for urine and feces. In that case, I offered, they numbered the terminals backward. Lindbergh should be number 2.
Pick up traffic was heavy even for Humphrey that afternoon but we readily found an opening at the curb and waited. Roxanne texted Michel where we were. Michel texted they were at the baggage carousel. Moments passed. Other cars came, picked up their people and left. For a few moments we were parked in. We dreaded the security cops would come and direct us to keep moving and we would be obliged to go around the return loop and position ourselves all over again.
Then Michel texted one of their suitcases was missing. We held our turf and waited and got lucky against airport security. In about twenty minutes the Kysylyczyns emerged to daylight. Kiss-kiss, abrazos and hugs. We stowed the luggage, one suitcase short. Sid took the wheel — it was their car, after all, a big GMC Denali, six passengers plus luggage reminiscent of the VW Tauran we used to rent when we used to tour Europe together, big family car. After about ten hours in the sky and a frustrating hour on the ground, Sid had an edge of determination like he needed to control something, so he drove. I rode shotgun. They were all tired and edgy and the ride provided a perfect moment to give in to their exhaustion and gush about what a great time they had but the moment was stolen by their consternation over the missing suitcase. A beautiful catharsis spoiled. Try as they might to answer Roxanne’s and my questions about impressions of their trip their thoughts were tainted with the question of how their suitcase got lost.
It was not a good night to all go to supper. The girls were cranky and jetlagged. Sid was expected to go to work the next day. Michel needed to place her house in order before bedtime and come to grips with a bag of her possessions somewhere Out There maybe never to be found. Even though she didn’t have to work the next day she faced a day of making phone calls. We went straight to their house.
The suitcase contained all their clean clothes. Michel’s makeup, their toothbrushes, their toiletries and four pairs of her jeans. Tess had a couple of dear stuffed animals she called lovies. Clara had a favorite pair of shoes, some shorts and blouses. All their souvenirs and mementos. Yet nobody cried. Roxanne said this was a good example why you should always pack your toothbrushes in your carry on. Michel worried that the bag got singled out because it got tagged Heavy Bag — it weighed two pounds overweight but was allowed to travel because the other bags weighed under the limit.
Roxanne suggested some other blurry faced passenger may have taken such a big black generic anonymous bag by mistake. This mere observation set Michel into speculative agitation thinking some stranger had possession of their belongings, the invasion of privacy and susceptibility to theft. It soothed her to figure most strangers who would make such a mistake would quickly rectify it, bring it back to the airport and turn it in to the lost and found, not loot it and dump it in the trash.
In any case, Michel resigned the issue to something unlikely to resolve itself overnight. It would require phone calls the next day. Back at Humphrey they filed a report with Sun Country Airlines, who handles baggage for Icelandair at MSP, and for the moment that’s all they could do. Nobody, least Sid or the kids, was going to let this inconvenience spoil their vacation. Already they looked back and it all seemed funny. When we adjourned for the night everybody hoped it would all work itself out.
The next morning Central Daylight Time an international phone number to Icelandair went unanswered. Michel said the number would ring and ring and then hang up. This discouraged her and Sid, who said up to this point they were rather impressed with Icelandair customer service.
On the phone to Sun Country Airlines Michel found a sympathetic customer service rep named Nick, who counseled patience. Another Icelandair flight from Zurich arrived every day at the same late afternoon hour at Humphrey terminal. The suitcase could be on the next flight. It wasn’t.
Next day, same thing, no suitcase.
It was part of the fabric of conversation now. By the way, how’s the suitcase? Sid and Michel speculated at what could have gone wrong. Airline travel being such a closed system they reasoned there ought to exist a tracking system by barcode or some such to account for the whereabouts of every bag. It was difficult for them to believe and seemed unreasonable nobody could track their suitcase in three, four, five, six days and counting.
We know this is a rich world problem. There are societies where real persons go missing and are never found.
I’m not materialistic, dad, she said. There’s stuff I’d rather have and not lose but it’s just stuff. What gets me is nobody knows. Nobody owns it.
The nobodies who knew where the suitcase went included this Nick guy at Sun Country, who Michel credited with always answering his phone but didn’t know anything. Sid got a hold of a person at IGS, the ground services provider for Icelandair at Keflavik airport at Reykjavik, Iceland, who referred him to Keflavik Lost and Found, who referred him to Icelandair. Michel and Sid filed a formal claim of loss online and entered into email correspondence among a network of aviation affiliated entities, and they received a claim number and apologies but no word where was the suitcase.
I remembered back at St Simon of Cyrene parochial school, 5th grade, Connie Hechter went to our teacher Sister Alsace Lorraine in tears one afternoon. Connie alleged somebody stole her fountain pen from her desk during lunch recess. It was a special fountain pen, I heard her tell the nun, a present from her grandma. Sister Alsace Lorraine ordered everyone in the class to close their eyes and put their heads down on their desks for five minutes. She said she would do the same. During that time, whoever had the fountain pen was supposed to quietly tiptoe to Sister’s desk, return the pen anonymously and tiptoe back to his or her seat. The rest of us were encouraged to spend the five minutes in prayer saying silent Hail Marys, Our Fathers and Glory Bes. An Act of Contrition if you could get through it without having to say it out loud. In five minutes when we opened our eyes we would expect to see the fountain pen on Sister’s desk, no questions asked.
My question was whether you could trust Sister Alsace Lorraine not to peek. I had no trouble keeping my own eyes closed, though I didn’t stifle my ears. There were giggles and whispers and hushes and somebody stifled a weak fart sound almost too genuine to be a prank. Sister raised her voice once to invoke quiet, remind us to pray and to give the guilty party two minute warning to repent. She wore a Timex wristwatch so you could suppose she could check it with her head down, but some way I had the feeling she was watching us. I tried to sense if she were circulating among us but I heard no sounds of the clack of her beads, detected no swish of the linen of her habit, so it seemed plausible she was not up and moving about hovering above us on patrol. I thought I may have heard tiptoes, but not more than one or two, not enough to get to Sister’s desk. A cough. Another cough, call and response. I think I wished I could take a nap. The tiptoe sounds could have been faked. The kid across the aisle from me had sniffles but I can’t think of his name. Mike somebody…
Sister said it was Time’s Up. Our eyes got used to the light. Connie’s fountain pen was not on Sister’s desk. It was not on Connie’s desk. It was on the desk of a kid named Micmac Murphy, an obvious plot to frame him. Sister didn’t fall for it for an instant and almost credited Murph for finding the pen as she presented it back to Connie and said, No more need be said of this, but we can be proud because we’re honest, which was a message for the rest of us who didn’t steal the pen or get into trouble on their own as much as Micmac Murphy. We clapped applause. Pride.
Personally I didn’t think it would work. I hoped Connie got her pen back, out of justice, but I overestimated the thief’s willingness to take a chance to smuggle it out of the classroom. I guess it was a nice pen. And far as I know the amnesty deal was honored with no repercussions, and I don’t recall any rumors or people talking out of school who took Connie’s pen. Far as I know there were no more fountain pens reported stolen in 5th grade that year. I was glad nobody got slapped. Seems we all went to disposable ballpoint pens by 6th grade.
I was optimistic the Kysylyczyns’ suitcase would just suddenly arrive at their front door, no explanation. I also had a more sinister theory that the bag had been interdicted on purpose by Interpol or Homeland Security. And not as a Heavy Bag per se. Perhaps innocently, at first, a random baggage inspection, one in every so many many, seized and examined up close — routine, just happened to be the Kysylyczyns. Or perhaps not so innocent, Sid and Michel were targeted for surveillance after all those years mysteriously undercover in Switzerland. When Clara and Tess used to pretend to be Sky Kids maybe they weren’t really playing but acting out drama based on secret family baggage. I never fully understood Sid’s job — I could see him as a secret agent. That’s why I believed all that week the suitcase would simply arrive at their front steps.
And then there’s my memory of the Swedish Fish and the Hokusai Wave watercolor. My favorite non-chocolate candy is Swedish Fish, a fruity jelly chewy gumdrop cast in the shape of fish, scales and all. In America they come in bright bold red, yellow, green and orange — lingonberry, lemon, lime, orange. I buy them by the pound and hand them out, raised my kids on them and been dishing them to Clara and Tess since either had more than three teeth. While in Switzerland the Kysylyczyns made friends with families who were Swedes and learned Swedish Fish were a real Swedish thing. Visiting their friends in Sweden they discovered the candy there is more citrus and tart, and the colors of the flavors more translucent and pastel — in fact they call them pastelfiskar. The American recipe is made by Cadbury, the Swedish recipe by Malaco. After a visit to Gothenburg a few years ago Michel mailed me a package from Zug, Switzerland containing a rolled up watercolor on paper of whitecap waves on a blue ocean with Mt Fuji in the background painted by Clara after the iconic image by Hokusai. In that package was a presumably generous share of Malaco Swedish Swedish Fish.
It can take a while for mail to travel between Switzerland and the United States. It was meant to be a surprise. In due time when I didn’t email Michel I received the package after about a month, she asked me on a Skype day if I’d received it and I had not. It was disappointing but somehow easier to accept something getting lost in the mail than something like an airline losing a suitcase. Then about a week later I received in the mail a manila envelope with Clara’s Hokusai watercolor in it, rolled up and rubber banded, intact if a little rumpled and wrinkled, no worse for wear. The address on the envelope had been transcribed by another hand, and inside with the watercolor was the original mailing label wrtten out by Michel along with a fragment of the original package. There were no Swedish Fish.
I told Michel when the suitcase eventually arrives to count the Swedish Fish.
At the end of the week there was a break in the case — the missing suitcase, that is — I never got that missing batch of Swedish Fish — maybe some customs agents thought it was a semi clever way to smuggle drugs, oh what a surprise — I complained to Cy my longtime mail carrier but all he could offer were condolences and sad acknowledgement he knew of postal workers abusing the mail.
Sid made contact with somebody of the lost and found ground services company servicing Icleandair at Reykjavik who said the suitcase had been located at the airport at Warsaw, Poland.
But of course. Everyone Sid told the news said the same thing. Of course it went to Poland, did not the luggage tag say Kysylyczyn — where else would it go?
Michel used to say that almost every time she went through customs at Amsterdam the agents would look at her passport and tease her about her name — Kysylyczyn? Shouldn’t you be going to Poland, ha ha…
Sid accepted a vague assurance from his source at Reykjavik the suitcase was found at the Warsaw airport terminal and would be routed to Minneapolis, but nobody knew how or when. That might be known after the week end. Nobody seemed to know how it got to Warsaw. Icelandair does not fly to Warsaw.
There go Michel’s jeans, I thought. I let go of my pet spy scenario to allow for another fluke incident, although it opened my mind to possibilities of eastern European intrigue. Could it have been on its way to Moscow, or Istanbul? I always felt the Kysylyczyns innocent of western counterintelligence skulduggery and shenanigans — be it, we are all ambassadors when we travel — and now I wondered what sort of international mischief may be in play to divert this one of all bags to a place backwards from its intended route to a place which used to be known as behind the Iron Curtain, where the airline which lost the bag does not fly. I imagined a plot. Recalling a craze not long ago in eastern Europe, a craving for all things denim, I said to Michel, forget the Swedish Fish, kiss your jeans bye-bye.
Turned out Michel packed the Swedish Fish from her Swedish Swiss friends in a different suitcase. We savored their tart sweetness while discussing our questions and our hoped-for answers while anticipating the bag’s arrival maybe Monday.
We celebrated Michel’s birthday — 39 years on this earth.
Nothing Monday. On Tuesday Sid contacted his source at Icelandair’s ground services provider IGS at Reykjavik and was advised to contact Icelandair directly because the bag was not in the hands of IGS and they had no more information than a notation in a computer case file that the bag had been located in Warsaw and might be forwarded to them in Reykjavik. Or not.
Michel tried Nick at Sun Country at MSP and learned nothing. She asked Nick to call somebody at Warsaw Chopin airport, but Nick said he had no authority to make international calls. He advised her to file a claim with Icelandair for compensation. It was as though he knew the suitcase was never coming back. He advised replacing the missing items and expecting compensation.
She mentally inventoried what was in the missing bag. Clothes. The jeans — Michel always said she had to search hard to find jeans she fit just right, she had an eastern European figure descended from Czechs and German-Polish border people on her mother’s side — usually high-end shop jeans, more reason to expect the jeans were gone even if someday the bag turned up. There was her make up, not that she applied much or needed to, it would still have to be replaced. Toiletries, easy to replace at Target — they already had new toothbrushes. The airline would settle by and by. Tess’s stuffed animals would be mourned irreplaceable. Sid valued his shaving kit bag, not for its contents — he was given to going bearded — but because it was a nice bag by Tumi presented to him by Delta airlines on a first class flight he took on business to Bangalore. There were souvenirs and mementos from Switzerland, including a full tube of Thomy Mayonnaise a la Francais intended as a gift for me and Roxanne — Thomy is the eggiest most delicious mayonnaise on the planet and comes in a big tube like a family-sized toothpaste — when I learned it was among the missing I counted it gone with the jeans.
And all the Swiss chocolate. Michel estimated enough pounds of quality chocolate bars to push the suitcase overweight enough to get tagged Heavy Bag.
No word that whole next week, no bag. Sid and Michael fatigued at squeezing futile phone calls and emails during the business hours of their day jobs. The girls mustered to go back to school the following week, the week before Labor Day. Roxanne and I took an excursion to a cabin in the Boundary Waters with our son Vincent and daughter in law Amelie. Everyone went about their normal way enjoying summer while it lasts. The Kysyslyczyns planned to hit the State Fair. I expected the suitcase would be resolved by the time we came home and reconnected.
If nothing else, I said on the phone to Michel before departing for the Boundary Waters where there would be no wi-fi or cell phone service, a big black Lada sedan will pull up to your house and a guy in a black suit will wheel your suitcase to your door and ring the doorbell. I believe this belongs to you, I said in a dramatic Russian accent — Have a nice day — and with no explanation he’ll go back to the car and drive away.
Count your jeans.
Back from the glorious wilderness where you can see the Milky Way I learned the suitcase still had not arrived. Frustrated as the week went by without word, Sid and Michel knuckled down and tried to contact anyone remotely connected with custody of the suitcase. On a hunch inspired by IGS in Reykjavik, Sid contacted the lost and found office at Warsaw Chopin airport operated by a firm called Welcome Airport Services. A person from the Arrival Services department told Sid the bag indeed had been in Warsaw but had been sent to MSP six days prior via Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This person suggested the bag might still be in Toronto and to contact MSP lost and found.
The suitcase had not gone back to Icelandair at Flughafen Zurich airport the way it came but instead was put on a LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw Chopin airport to Toronto Pearson International airport, where Air Canada was supposed to bring it to MSP. Six days ago.
A consensus developed between the Kysylyczyns and their new airlines cohorts that the bag may be stranded in Toronto, but no one could give Sid or Michel a straight answer. Michel learned that United Airlines handled baggage for Air Canada at Terminal 1 MSP so she called United on a hunch the bag might be stuck unclaimed at Lindbergh when it should go to Icelandair at Humphrey. United declined to acknowledge either its knowledge of existence of the suitcase or any affiliation with Air Canada. Air Canada denied possession of the bag. Sun Country declined to offer any further assistance because more than six days had elapsed since the disappearance of the bag and all inquiries hence should be directed to the primary carrier, Icelandair — plus, this Nick guy was unempowered to call Canada. Everything seemed fishier and fishier. Is this how it gets when they want you to give up?
Finally a travel consultant from Icelandair contacted Sid by email and confirmed the suitcase had been indeed found in Warsaw and for a week been in process of being sent to MSP. She suggested the bag might be stuck in customs in Toronto because of rules not permitting a US bag to be sent through Canada. She advised Sid — if he had not already done so — to file a claim for compensation, hinting the bag may never arrive. Not giving up hope, Sid wondered whether there might be a kind of quarantine protocol being imposed, a wait time. The Icelandair agent wrote she did not know but would be in touch as soon as she received additional information.
After three more days of hearing absolutely nothing, I asked Sid and Michel if they would mind if I took up their cause and inquired into the case myself. Sure, have at it, they said, knock yourself out.
With the girls back to school and no need for us grandparents to look after them while mom and dad went to work, I had a little extra time on my hands. All along the story fascinated me. I felt rather honored and delighted to get actively involved. Michel forwarded me copies of emails between her and Sid and various reps of the airlines and ground services firms they had corresponded with the past two weeks. I read them and also asked Michel and Sid about their phone conversations to get myself up to speed.
I started with Icelandair, the airline ultimately responsible. I wrote a letter — an email in letter format — addressed to the travel consultant who last contacted Sid, four days before. Her name was Lydia with a Reykjavik e-letterhead. I chose to go to her first because she was last contact and her emails showed she knew the most up to date information and might confirm the history, and also because she expressed a sincere desire to make things right for the Kysylyczyns. She seemed to authentically take the whole thing seriously.
I presented myself as a journalist writing a story about the lost suitcase. I did not disclose that I am Michel Kyslysczyn’s dad because I did not want to demean Michel and Sid’s own dogged efforts to get the bag as if Michel’s Daddy Rides to the Rescue. Instead I credited the Kysylyczyns for my research and asked questions about what happened and how, what would happen next, and if in fact Icelandair was actively investigating the case.
I recited what I thought I knew. I asked whether there was a security protocol that a bag of luggage must fly on the same flight as a ticketed passenger — seemed fair from recalling experience at Amsterdam Schiphol airport and listening to the public address system paging passengers absent from their flights and warning them if they failed to show up their luggage would be removed from the plane (I did not cite my Schiphol experience in my letter, only asked the protocol question). I essayed to be friendly and respectful and even said the purpose of my story was not to impugn the reputation of Icelandair or anyone who took part in the mistake but to find the bag and see it happily returned to the Kysylyczyns. I signed it Sincerely and gave my phone number.
The next day I received a phone call on my home land line. It was an overseas call with that land line clarity phone companies used to brag you can hear a pin drop.
She spoke in a continental accent, asked for me and said her name was Asta from Icelandair calling from Reykjavik and we proceeded to hold an entertaining and pleasant conversation.
Asta did not bury the lede and said straight up the suitcase was located at that very moment at Newark Liberty Airport, EWR, in New Jersey, USA. An Icelandair handling agent at Newark was going to hand-carry the bag directly to a FedEx station at the airport where it would be shipped directly to the Kysylyczyns at their home. She promised there would be no more flights.
Except on a FedEx plane, I laughed at her joke. Caught awkward she said, “I hadn’t thought of that. Iceland is such a small country I think of FedEx packages going by lorry, but I suppose you are right, one last flight on FedEx to MSP and then to the Kyslysczyns.” She unhaltingly pronounced their name.
She had yet to reach out to them with the news. She estimated the bag would arrive the next day and said she would forward the FedEx tracking number as soon as it was available.
We agreed two weeks was a long time to fly a lost bag from Warsaw to Minneapolis. I asked how it got to Poland if Icelandair doesn’t fly there.
Asta explained: Both Icelandair and another Icelandic airline called WOW Air share the same baggage baggage handlers at Zurich airport and she theorized the suitcase was mistakenly loaded on a WOW Air flight to Warsaw. Discovered in Warsaw, the recommended remediation was to put the bag on a WOW Air plane back to Zurich to be flown on Icelandair to Keflavik airport in Iceland and then on to Minneapolis St Paul. Matter of factly she said, “This did not happen.”
Instead somebody decided to put it on a LOT Polish Airlines plane to MSP via Toronto, Canada. This was a problematic course since LOT Polish Airlines does not itself fly into Minneapolis St Paul. She said she believed Air Canada was supposed to fly the bag from Toronto to MSP. How it arrived at Newark was unknown. LOT does fly directly from Warsaw to Newark. Air Canada flies there nonstop from Toronto.
Asta could not account for where the suitcase languished the past ten days. Asked more about Toronto and whether it had been hung up in Canadian customs she sounded more cautious, not sure the bag ever went to Toronto at all. She seemed reticent to declare whether the Canadians had anything to do with it.
I didn’t press. We shared some joy that the suitcase was virtually home. I sincerely complemented her customer service skills and thanked her (and Lydia) for the response. I said all I ever heard about Icelandair were good things, that my son and his wife had anice experience flying Icelandair, and apart from the suitcase Kyslysczyns reported positive things about the hospitality and comfort. I said I and my wife hoped to fly Icelandair some day. To visit Iceland. I said I’ve always been fond of Iceland from a distance.
Why? she asked.
I did not name-drop my old friend Eleanor Arnason the science fiction author of Icelandic descent, or John McPhee who wrote about Iceland’s volcanoes. I answered honestly I had the impression the people were happy and friendly and I was interested in volcanoes, hot springs, rugged scenery, the midnight sun and aurora borealis. Yes, she said, we have all that and barely four hours of daylight in the winter.
And then I mentioned one of my great grandmothers was born in Iceland.
Yes? When? Where? What was her name?
Embarrassed, I fumbled the answers and apologized for my ignorance of my own ancestry.
Asta said, Iceland is a very small country with population 350,000 people and you would be amazed how connected and historical known many Icelanders are. She offered to look into the Iceland database for me if I would send her some clues.
She said she would call the Kyslysczyns next. She said she would forward me the FedEx tracking number and an email recap of her research into the suitcase. A few hours later she emailed me to say due to the lateness of the hour, almost midnight in Iceland, she would not be able to confirm the tracking number until tomorrow. She concluded by saying all her handling agents had responded to her requests and she had reached Ms Kysylyczyn and informed her of the status of the suitcase, and reminded me to send information about my great grandmother so she could help me research my heritage.
I regret I did not disclose my family tie to Michel Kysylyczyn. I owe Asta that courtesy.
Meantime, right after Asta’s phone call I did not call Michel right away. Part of it was to allow Asta to break the good news. And I hesitate to call Michel at work — she’s a clinical nurse. But I called Roxanne, who was working that day, because I needed to tell somebody. Roxanne then texted Michel — call dad. When she called me she hadn’t heard yet from Asta, so I got to tell her the news.
As she later told Asta on the phone, No offense but I’ll believe it when I see it. They had a nice laugh.
That was a Wednesday. Thursday passed with no word, no suitcase, no guy in a black Russian sedan. No FedEx tracking number. No Asta, no vista. We decided to give one more day.
Friday late morning Michel got a call from someone at Sun Country Airlines (not the Nick guy) at the Humphrey terminal who proudly announced they had found her lost luggage and would be sending it to her by FedEx that afternoon. He confirmed her address and estimated delivery around 6:00, the dinner hour. Michel said the guy made it sound like Sun Country wanted to get the final credit.
A little before six Michel texted Roxanne to say the suitcase arrived. Crazy eyeball emoji. Then a photo. Not long later we talked on the phone. It came in a FedEx van. Intact. No external scars. No stickers, just some tags on strings. The contents undisturbed and complete — jeans, chocolate and Thomy mayonnaise. Stuffed lovies. Shoes and shorts. Swiss placemats and magnets. Tumi shaving kit bag. All there. The way it was.
Only it smells like airplane, she said. What do you mean, I asked. Like the atmosphere inside the cabin when you first board a plane, she said — times ten.
So I composed a grateful email to Asta confirming my knowledge the Kysylyczyns received their bag. I complimented the ultimate result and feinted a suspicion the final stage didn’t go as planned. She replied she had her own confirmation the bag was delivered. She offered again to help me research the origins of my great grandma and wished me a good weekend. A short while later she followed with another email composed of copies of email exchanges and chains between herself and colleagues the past two days illustrating how things didn’t go as planned at Newark airport.
According to the emails the suitcase arrived at Newark Liberty Airport on an Air Canada flight. Icelandair lost and found service at Newark was alerted but before anyone could intercept the bag it was handed over to Delta airlines for a quick flight directly to MSP. Delta flies into Terminal 1 Lindbergh. Delta needed to put it into the hands of Icelandair at Terminal 2 Humphrey. Asta and her North American counterpart got somebody at Sun Country to mobilize somebody across the tarmacs between terminals to claim the bag from Delta. Once secured, Sun Country put it on Fed Ex.
Not a word about Canada. Only a reference to an Air Canada flight carrying the bag into Newark but no reference from where. No mention of Toronto.
In Asta’s own words in one of the emails to the Baggage Coordinator at Sun Country corporate headquarters:
So this is quite a journey that the bag has been on.
If that suitcase could talk.
At Michel’s house I examined it. I read the string tags: one from LOT Airlines with MSP as destination via Toronto, and it had inscriptions in Polish referring to Warsaw Chopin Airport; a tag from Air Canada in red saying RUSH and dated fifteen days before its eventual recovery and showing origination from Toronto Pearson International Airport with destination to Minneapolis St Paul; a tag, also red, designating the recent Delta flight from Newark to MSP; and of course the big plastic FedEx bill of transport.
Could we obtain readable fingerprints — run them through Interpol and CODIS. Could I run the bar codes from the airline tags — maybe take them down to Cub foods and try them on the self checkout bar code reader, or at Target where they have those price check scanner guns.
My latest fantasy is the suitcase decided to take a vacation. Maybe it met up with another suitcase and they ran off to Poland. Maybe the suitcase (please don’t call me bag) made friends among other expat suitcases all those years in the basement storage at the apartment in Switzerland and they all held a reunion in Toronto. Maybe the suitcase reflected upon itself, skin now rubbed and beaten shiny black and its seams shabby, the zipper teeth unsure of its gnarly smile, maybe a wheel going weak, the handle stiff and cranky, and seeing its useful life coming near its end decided to take one last fling and get lost for two weeks. Who knows, maybe the suitcase went all kinds of places unrecorded, wasn’t stuck in Toronto at all.
If only that suitcase could talk.
The Kysylyczyns have a story to tell. They are pleased with the outcome, needless to say. What’s more, Michel, inspired by my correspondence with Asta, has piqued new interest in our family tree.
I am the one thinking too much about the suitcase. Roxanne and I experienced lost luggage on one of our trips to visit the kids in Zug. Our checked bags did not arrive with us at Flughafen Zurich. Nobody’s did. The luggage conveyor system at Shiphol Amsterdam where we made our connecting flight from Minneapolis broke down and the luggage was left behind in Amsterdam. We filed a claim at the Zurich airport along with everyone else. We gave Michel’s phone number. Next day the bags showed up at the Kysylyczyns’ apartment via courier as promised in a phone call that day. Zug is about thirty miles from the airport. It was all Swiss efficient. We never worried. The lesson we learned was to bring toothbrushes and so forth in your carry on bags just in case.
The suitcase led me to learn some things about the aviation industry, such as the IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes which identify all airports in the world by three letters. MSP is Minneapolis St Paul. WAW is Warsaw Chopin. YYZ is Toronto Pearson. Keflavik in Iceland is KEF. Amsterdam Shiphol is AMS, Zurich ZRH. Newark Liberty Airport is EWR. Sometimes the IATA codes make no intuitive sense.
A guy at the Oyster Card shop at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) noticed on my passport I was from Minneapolis and he said to me, Mary Says Please — his Heathrow mnemonic for MSP. There’s an international airport language.
I learned the existence of more regional airlines of Europe like WOW Air, LOT Polish Airlines, and another Polish airline which flies in and out of Warsaw Chopin called WIZZ Air — no evidence WIZZ Air had any connection to the Kysylyczyn suitcase.
By my count seven different airlines and five sovereign nations participated in its journey, counting Canada although our neighbor seems to want to remain anonymous. Countless people somehow collaborated to locate and transport a single misplaced suitcase to its true destination in this world.
One suitcase. Lost and found. In the time frame of the Suitcase Saga, and just since, the greater world has experienced planet-stunning events. Hurricane Harvey basted Texas in a barbecue of putrid stew. Irma blew away the illusion of the good life in Florida and leveled society in parts of the Caribbean. An earthquake rubbled Juchitan, Mexico, a place so obscure nobody knows where it is relative to Cabo or Cancun. There’s genocide in Myanmar on the border with Bangladesh. North Korea toys with a hydrogen bomb and sends missiles over Japan like bottle rockets over the neighbor’s house across the street. There’s an opioid crisis within the cultures of pain. Dreamers of a thing called DACA face mass deportations to countries unknown and foreign. Wild fires storm the forests. A volcano called Katla rumbles beneath Iceland and fixes to blow its glacier into the sky. That’s not all. That’s just the past weeks. That’s just some of the bold headlines.
And yet a bunch of people collaborated across five countries to rescue one American family’s vacation suitcase.
Nicely done. Thank you all. Including the Canadians who would rather not be recognized — talk about a network of secret agents.
At the top of this story is a picture representing Icelandair. This is how it sees itself. Take a good look at it and imagine which character represents Asta and which one Lydia — probably not the one in red.
Nex year Roxanne and I plan to visit Iceland. Fly a deal on Icelandair. See volcanoes. Hot spring thermal baths. Mountains. Fjords. Midnight sun, or maybe northern lights depending on the season. Perhaps by then we’ll know the origin of Michel’s great-great grandma, but if not we’ll make one up. It’s a small and friendly country, they say.