I was five hours early for my flight back to Wellington because my business in Auckland had finished sooner than expected. So I went to the Air New Zealand check in desk and said, "Can you transfer me to an earlier flight, please?"
The nice lady clicked keys on her keyboard and then frowned. "No, I'm sorry," she said, "but the ticket you have is not transferable." Then she brightened. "But I can check you in now and you can drop your bags off and go to the Koru Club lounge where strange and sybaritic pleasures await."
I was dubious. "Will my bag be safe if I check it in so early?" I asked.
"Of course it will," she said firmly. "They have a well organised system in the baggage handling room and there's a waiting area set aside for each flight. Your bag will be perfectly safe."
"Can you guarantee that?" I asked. "You've lost my baggage before under these circumstances. Once I flew from Wellington to Auckland and my bags flew to Sydney and we weren't reunited for many days. I ran out of underpants, a terrible fate."
"You've got nothing to worry about," she reassured me. "The luggage has a bar code on the label which gives the flight details and the bar code reader automatically assigns the bags to the proper pick up point. The luggage never gets lost these days. Trust me -- I used to work in baggage handling."
"OK," I said, convinced by her positive attitude. "Check me in and I will spend the time until my flight debauching myself in the lounge."
"You won't regret it," she said as she printed out my boarding card and baggage tag. "I hear that they have a new batch of chrome-plated dancing girls." The bar code on the baggage tag looked very authoritative. I dropped my bag on the conveyor belt and watched it move off into the baggage handling area. It would have a lonely time of it for the next few hours as it waited for more bags for its flight to arrive. I hoped it wouldn't get bored.
I made my way to the security farce checkpoint. I put my laptop, phone, coins, hat and coat into plastic trays and sent them through the X-ray machine along with my backpack. Then I walked through the metal detector gates. No alarms went off, which mildly surprised me because I was still wearing my watch and my Medic-Alert bracelet. I had a gold chain around my neck, rings on my fingers and a big metal belt buckle. No bells on my toes though, luckily. All of these items tend to set the alarms ringing in more paranoid countries, and I'm constantly getting wanded when I travel overseas...
I reclaimed my laptop, phone, coins, hat and coat and watched, bewildered, as my backpack came out of the X-Ray machine, stopped and then reversed direction and went back in again. A gaggle of guards gathered round the monitor, pointing at it and whispering to each other. Eventually the bag reappeared again along with a big, beefy, shaven-headed, cloven hoofed security man.
"Is this your bag, sir?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "Is there a problem?"
"No, not really," said the security man. "All the stuff in it has fallen down to the bottom and is just sitting there in a great big lump. The X-rays won't go through and all we can see on the screen is an amorphous blob. Can I take a look inside?"
"Feel free," I said. Not that I had any choice.
He opened the backpack and rummaged around in the collection of miscellaneous computer clutter that comprised the amorphous blob.
"Thank you, sir," he said as he handed the bag to me. "That's all fine." I headed off to the Koru Club lounge. I felt an urgent need to debauch myself with forbidden pleasures.
The lounge was seething with people. Most of the free food had been eaten, though I noticed that the monkey-brain salad remained largely untouched. However the containers of curried huhu grubs had been scraped clean. I helped myself to cheese and biscuits. The cheese had a curious flavour.
A harassed looking lady bustled past with a trolley full of spaghetti invercargillia. "Excuse me," I said, "what kind of cheese is this?"
"It's made from giraffe milk," she said. "Have you never seen the Air New Zealand cheese factory at the back of the giraffe enclosure at the Auckland Zoo?"
"Oh yes," I said. "I remember now."
I helped myself to a pair of dormice stuffed with lark tongues and wandered over to the bar. I chose a glass of wine fermented from grapes fertilised with the dung of unicorns and the blood and bone of yetis. The Koru Club lounge was living up to its exotic reputation.
Nibbling a dormouse, I wandered over to the stage. The dancing girls were preparing themselves and struggling hard to fit their breasts into chromium plated brass bras. They all looked like extras from the cover of a 1938 edition of Astounding Stories Of Super Science. Immediately I felt right at home.
Five hours passed in the blink of an eye. Replete with wine and cheese and with a souvenir bra in my pocket, I boarded my flight to Wellington. We took off and, an hour later, we landed. I made my way to the baggage carousel.
Because I am a Koru Club member I am entitled to priority baggage handling. This means that my bags are always the very last to be unloaded from the aeroplane. So I wasn't too upset when my bag failed to appear on the carousel. However when there was still no sign of my bag after I had waited for almost as long as the flight itself had taken, I began to worry a little.
I made my way to the baggage enquiry office. I presented my receipt to the nice lady behind the counter.
"Oh yes," she said. "I remember this one. It flew down three hours ago and it's been waiting here for you ever since. I've been feeding it biscuits and playing tag with it to stop it from pining for you."
She took my receipt and handed my bag to me. It seemed slightly chubbier than when I first checked it in. Perhaps the lady had fed it too many biscuits.
"So it travelled down here all by itself on an earlier flight?" I asked.
"Yes," said the lady.
"Doesn't that violate every security regulation under the sun?" I asked. "I thought unaccompanied bags weren't allowed on aeroplanes any more."
"That's right," she said. She didn't sound at all worried. "It's so cute with its little fluffy zips! Can I feed it another biscuit?"
"No," I said, "I think it's had enough."
My luggage was harmless. There was nothing dangerous in it apart from a week's supply of dirty underpants, so it really didn't matter that the baggage handlers sent it unaccompanied on an earlier flight. But I wonder how often they screw up like this?
I wonder if I've found a weak link in the security chain?