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Leave No Bag Behind


My suitcase, in disgrace

It’s my fourth day in Finland and I know three words. They’re same three words I knew before I got here. Sauna, hej (hello) and kittos (thank you). That’s fairly disgraceful, but it’s three more words than I actually need to get by here, because every Finn I’ve met speaks better English than I do. Thanks, Finnish education system.

We flew over on the A380, a sort of flying shopping centre affair operated by Qatar Airways. Our seats were near a door that in an ordinary plane you’d think would lead to a toilet, but this one kept opening and flight crew would disappear into it. For a few hours I thought it was where they went to practice their mime tricks, because whenever they went in, before the door closed behind them I would catch a glimpse of them doing the ‘walking down a flight of stairs’ trick. I mean, that had to be what they were doing because it was a plane and on a plane there’s nowhere downstairs from economy class, is there?

But the A380 is basically an airborne Downton Abbey, and the reason the crew looked like they were walking downstairs was because they were walking downstairs. I don’t know what was down in the plane basement. Probably a long kitchen table and some snarky liveried footman brewing trouble. Or perhaps it was like the galley of slaves in Ben-Hur and they were all down there taking turns to row the thing through the air. I don’t know how planes work.After many days and nights on board this plane we arrived in Qatar, then got on another A380 to Paris. And that is where things got a bit hectic.

We had two hours to get from one flight to the next, which would have been fine were Paris airport not an experiment in marrying Surrealism, Dada and the bureaucracy of travel.

To get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2D involved going through two security checkpoints without having been issued a boarding pass, then following a sign that read ‘Terminal 2D: after gate 53’ past gates 1 to 52 until we reached a door at the end of a corridor. It was unlabelled except for many serious warnings about how it was never to be opened under any circumstances. As we stood there, a woman materialised seemingly from the ether and conducted a French oral exam, during which I mostly said ‘Encore une fois?’ over and over again, each time a little higher and louder until I was basically a one-woman late 1990s rave. She really wanted to know the history of my study of the French language and I think I eventually got across that there is nineteen years since I will do the making of the to learn French, which seemed to get me a pass.

She opened the do-not-open door, and there was an aerobridge. She gestured for us to follow it to the end. Usually at the end of an aerobridge is an aeroplane, and usually you are supposed to have a boarding pass to get on an aeroplane, but she dismissed my queries, possibly because they weren’t actual queries in French but a combination of phrases like ‘Mais le boarding pass? Quelle flight? Le plane?’ I didn’t trust this woman as far as I could conjugate the verb to trust, but time was running out, like sand through a melting clock, and we had a Finland to get to, so we took a leap of faith and did as we were told.

There turned out not to be a plane at the end of the bridge, but some stairs to the tarmac and a bus. The bus was to Terminal 2A, Terminal 2B and Terminal 2C, where you could change buses for Terminal 2D. I don’t know how much French you know, dear reader, but in French, 2B, 2C and 2D sound pretty much the same when mumbled over a crackly loudspeaker. We took two meandering bus rides, dodging Singpore Airlines jets and once narrowly missing a truck carrying suitcases, which swerved and sent most of them sliding out across the runway.

Finally we found our gate, which was the one with the helpfully provided piano so a small child could provide the perfect soundtrack to all this fucking nonsense by inexpertly picking out Jingle Bells on the keys.

As we flew over northern Europe, sipping blueberry juice from Marimekko paper cups, we finally exhaled. ‘If our bags made it onto this plane,’ we said to each other, ‘it’ll be a goddam miracle.’

And do you know what? Miracles don’t happen. Of course our bags didn’t make the flight. They had not even rudimentary French skills and couldn’t pass the most basic vocabulary test. They were left behind in Paris to fend for themselves.

On arrival in Helsinki the good people of Finnair gave us gigantic white t-shirts and toothbrushes and sent us on our way. My suitcase arrived a day and a half later, without Other Jess’s suitcase, which is very poor form of it if you ask me. That’s not sticking to the buddy system. Poor old Other Jess’s suitcase finally showed up after three nights, with a look at my bag that clearly said ‘Thanks for leaving me behind, you shit’ and now it won’t stand next to my bag and frankly I don’t blame it.

That’s more than enough for now and I haven’t even started to tell you about Helsinki, and the SAUNAS. My god, the saunas. Until next time.

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