As may be easily inferred, opportunities for invited grand rounds are few and far between for early career cardiologists. Such an opportunity presented itself serendipitously to me recently – and I was excited at the chance. It did involve air travel and a single change of flights. Being a big believer of traveling light, I wore casuals and had my suit in my strolley, which usually fits in most overhead bins on planes. As luck would have it, as I got off at the single stop to change planes, the airlines requested a gate “check in” for the strolley – the flight being anticipated to be full, with consequent lack of storage space in the main cabin. Never having had any issues with this – especially with dropping off a bag at point of departure and picking up gate side on arrival at the destination in the past, I was happy to oblige. Unfortunately this time, fate had planned a twist.
When I arrived at my final destination, I got off with a smile of relief at journey’s end, a cheery wave to the airline crew, and began to look for my bag at the gate side. Initially there was a crowd expectantly waiting like me right after disembarking, but gradually each one of them happily collected their own and moved on. In the end it was just me left at the gate with no bag and no airline crew or anyone else around – disconcerting at the very least the day before a presentation.
I walked on into the terminal and walked up to the appropriate airline desk and they directed me to the baggage carousel expecting the bag to have been placed there with the other checked luggage. A subsequent wait at the carousel followed, unfortunately with a similar experience as at the gate. I did have the baggage tag which had been quickly put on at the departure gate, and fortunately I had made sure that it had been scanned to enable me to go back to the counter and try to trace the same. It could not be located immediately in the airline’s tracking system. However the airline did promise to update me with the status as soon as it became available and took down my contact information. Raised a quandary even with this – since I was only there in town for my grand rounds the next day and was due to leave the next night – would it be better just to provide my home address for them to forward the bag? Either way, it did not seem like my formal wear could be delivered in time for the grand rounds.
Then came the more pressing issue of trying to address the immediate need to obtain appropriate ‘threads’ for the presentation next morning. It was a late Sunday evening with potentially limited options available, while the presentation was early next morning when most stores would probably still remain closed. Fortunately the car service driver who came to pick me up knew of a couple of malls nearby en route to the hotel which were open, and expediently took me to one. After obtaining a new suit, to my relief, I did remember that the last version of my presentation on a thumb drive was in a side compartment in the stroller. This meant spending time on the laptop after reaching the hotel – which was still with me as I had taken it off the strolley before getting on the flight. Meanwhile, the airlines did call me to update me that they had located the bag at the point of departure, and agreed to forward it to the airport at my destination so as to enable me to pick it up on my way back home. They were gracious to agree to reimburse me for expenses incurred for the delay in baggage delivery.
The next day came – donning the new suit and having delivered the grand round hopefully without too much damage or discredit, I picked up my strolley on my way back home at the airport. Important lessons I learned in the process which potentially could help someone in the future:
1. If possible, try not to get separated from carry-on bags. Make sure the dimensions of the same adhere strictly to the specific airlines’ recommendations.
2. If a gate ‘check-in’ is inevitable, consider quickly changing into formal wear prior to handing off the bag, so that it remains available to you irrespective of the fate of the luggage. Alternately, carry the formal wear in a suit bag, and request to carry that on-board.
3. Hold on closely to the baggage claim check ticket provided at the gate and make sure the airline scans the ticket before you drop off the baggage. In my prior travels (those without baggage-related ‘incidents’), there were instances where the claim check may not even have been scanned in the rush at the gate in my recollection – please insist on the same prior to boarding, if a gate-check in is requested/mandated.
4. Have all presentation material available in multiple devices or maintain a version in the cloud for ease of access.
5. Thank heavens (if you are religious), and the airlines as well as everyone who helps with the process if you get back your baggage intact!
Saurav Chatterjee is a Staff Interventionist at Saint Francis Hospital of the University of Connecticut, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Research at the Frank H Netter School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University- living in Hartford, Connecticut. He volunteers for the PAD council and the Council on Clinical Cardiology. @SauravChMD