Grasping at Straws: Baggage Claim

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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Finally off the plane.

We touched down at JFK about 30 minutes ago, but I was in the back of the plane and a couple six rows up forgot which overhead bin they stored their carry-on bags. By the time they found them in the fifth bin they opened, I was like a sprinter at the starting line, ready to take off the second the single file line dissipated after exiting the aircraft. We landed at 11:15 PM so the airport terminal was mostly empty when we arrived, and many of my fellow passengers were visibly fatigued from the four-and-a-half hour flight. Morale was low, the volume of people heading straight for the bathroom was high, and the airport was primed to claim another round of victims in its dreary grasp.

Sure, the warm welcomes of family members as they greeted the arrivals was a sight for sore eyes. It was a pleasant reprieve after walking past the miserable-looking Cheeburger Cheeburger Express employees who had just finished a day in which they ran out of burgers halfway through and were left with only chicken. Inevitably, this meant enduring a day full of people thinking they were clever by saying, “You should change your name to Chickburger Chickburger.” We all felt for them, but seeing those faces of despair did nothing to help our jet-lagged minds, bodies, and souls as we all knew our departure from the airport was still a great distance away.

Only one thing could save us, though, that much was certain. After we discovered that the escalator was broken, turning them into very insulting stairs, I knew that it was going to take a miracle to lift this group out of the post-flight nightmare we were all living in. It was going to take a special performance from the airport’s last bastion of hope. That night, Baggage Claim #3 was our only shot at redemption.


As the members of my flight settled in on their positions around the carousel, the atmosphere was decidedly bleak. It was as if we had all collectively just watched the beginning of Office Space and were forced to shut it off right before the hypnotherapy scene. At least seven different people were sitting on the silver metal lining of the conveyor belt, a particularly disheartening sign considering we had all just been sitting for 5+ hours after accounting for pre-and-post-flight-waiting-on-the-tarmac-time.

Faint complaints about the flight could be heard among the crowd, including murmurs of, “the guy in front of me who didn’t put his seat back in the upright position when told,” and, “that’s the last time I sit right next to the bathroom,” and even, “I couldn’t believe she started breastfeeding her baby.” The dream of a positive flying/airport experience was fading quickly. Not one happy face around me. It looked like a Cleveland Browns game (before the 2018 season).

We needed a boost of any kind, and we needed it soon. I don’t know how much longer we would’ve held out before –


At long last, the alarm that our bags were on their way had sounded off. Our eyes became fixed on the red light on top of the carousel like we were a brave, naive kid trying to disprove the theory that staring at the sun will burn your eyes out. Though it could hardly be considered bright, it illuminated our hearts and provided the lift we so desperately craved. The stragglers on the outskirts of the carousel began inching to a spot along the conveyor belt with renewed thoughts of escaping the airport’s clutches in the near future. Everyone was now on their feet. The mood was still fairly somber, but it was gradually improving.

We had hope.

There it was. The first bag out of the chute. A medium-sized black Chaps. Bob Ross-themed luggage tag. A business man traveling alone scooped it up and practically skipped his way toward the exit. I think I saw a smile creep onto a young woman’s face. It was an exceptional moment indeed.

Unfortunately, it quickly turned into a tailspin as no other bags followed the first one.

Panic ensued as 4 whole minutes passed without another bag. It was a devastating blow after such a promising start. Confidence began to plummet. Arguments centered around “Why did we even check our bags?” threatened to destroy the entire crowd. People began to pace in bitter frustration. A boy holding a Pez dispenser and wearing an Abbey Road T-shirt started gently weeping. The irony was unbearably cruel. I didn’t know kids still even liked The Beatles.

The people of Baggage Claim #3 were on the verge of full-scale chaos until suddenly we heard the yell of a little girl ring out.


Everyone’s heads whipped around to find a vintage chrome Samsonite barreling out of the chute.

Each person’s face looked as if they were gazing upon their newborn child. That Samsonite suddenly became the most important thing in all our lives. I witnessed an elderly man in a wheelchair plow through a family of five to get to the conveyor belt. It wasn’t even his luggage. It was simply all instincts at that point. Everyone there knew it.

Baggage Claim #3 was back.

The Samsonite made its way all around the carousel without finding its owner, but it didn’t phase us. Just the sight of the suitcase cruising in front of us provided an injection of energy that would carry us to the appearance of the third bag soon after. One of those leopard print pieces. A tall man wearing a matching jacket claimed it and immediately dropped to his knees in gratitude. The joy in his eyes as he embraced his luggage was among the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in person.

Then the next suitcase unveiled itself. Miraculously, it belonged to the person in first position on the carousel. This was exactly the type of momentum-starter we were seeking. The potential for the floodgates to open had never been greater. Every single person at Baggage Claim #3 felt it, too. Looking around, our eyes possessed a fire that could only be sparked by the anticipation of an imminent avalanche of bags. This must be what Tom Brady feels like when he gets the ball down 3 with less than 2 minutes left in the game.

And for the first time all night, our intuitions held true as bag after bag began popping out of the chute. It was like Christmas, except Santa was the incompetent group of unseen baggage handlers. A light, sarcastic applause broke out, but with a serious undertone of, “I’ve never been happier in my entire life.”

Pink 4-wheel TravelPro. Callaway golf bag. Nondescript dark blue suitcase after nondescript dark blue suitcase. Smiles were abundant. Spirits were lifted. The foreign sound of laughter emerged among the children. One kid even hopped on the conveyor belt to give out high fives, Jonathan Lipnicki-in-Jerry Maguire-style. To this day, I’ve never seen such a dramatic turnaround. History was being made, and somehow everyone was aware of it in the moment.

The thing about the baggage claim is just as soon as the good times start rolling, the number of people to share in it gradually decreases. One by one, people collected their luggage, took one last look back at the carousel to contemplate the journey they have just been on, and disappeared into the world. Though we all experienced a great deal together, life continues to march on. It doesn’t stop for a group of travelers to come to grips with the roller coaster they had just been on. No, that was reserved for the car ride home. The next day. The weeks and months after. Our time spent at Baggage Claim #3 would live on with us through each subsequent trip to the airport, just as it should.

However, my time spent at Baggage Claim #3 was not yet over. I was the last of my plane’s passengers to pick up his bag, of course. By the time my black American Tourister found its way to me, it was only me and that chrome Samsonite left. Its owner will never know the special place it holds in the hearts of 43 random people at John F. Kennedy International Airport.


If there was any doubt in your mind about the transformative powers of the baggage claim, I sincerely hope they have now ceased to exist. That day at JFK was just one of several instances of sheer wonder at a baggage claim carousel. Everything else in an airport forces you to submit to a day’s worth of agitation and disapproval. Whether it’s the security lines, the judgmental check-in people, the questionable dining options, or the delays in take-off time, it seems we can never escape the constant onslaught of inconvenience and ineptitude at the airport.

Baggage claim is your one shining light of hope. It may present its share of challenges, as does anything in life, but it’s always there to provide a breath of fresh air when you think you can no longer withstand the suffocating harshness of the airport. Baggage claim truly shows you that good things come to those that wait. Baggage claim reignites your will to attack your post-airport day with inspiring vigor. Baggage claim is the saving grace within your airport experience.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.