Luggage misadventures

I have always been subject to misadventure. Part of this is my natural clumsiness — I’m the one who gets her purse strap hooked on the doorknob, holds up the queue digging in the bottom of her bag, can’t zip a jacket because the tabs won’t line up, and spills the drink in the middle of the cafe. I’m the one people roll eyes about.

This week, for the first time, it was damaged luggage. No, I didn’t damage it — thank British Airways baggage handlers for that. It arrived on the carousel, courteously removed by a young man on my request, missing ones of its four wheels. Having injured my lower back last month (think acupuncture, naproxen, strange exercises where I hold one foot in the air), the wheels were to make things easier.

It being spring, not summer, I was bringing my coat, necessitating a larger bag. But I can’t manage a huge one, so it’s 26 inches, not 28. And I don’t like zippers (they break, and bugs can get in) so it’s a hard shell with a fast closure. Since I’m not rich, it’s a Flieks, not a Samsonite. All of these ended up being an issue.

A 26″ Flieks suitcase with three wheels is difficult to manage. I looked around for a cart in the baggage claim area. The man getting a cart ahead of me was carefully taking them out one at a time, checking the wheels, and rejecting them till he found one he liked.

Now, I know better than to follow the crowd in London. I’ve almost been hit by taxis crossing against the light because 14 other people were doing it too. Locals aren’t right, just in a hurry. Nevertheless, I took this man’s reticence as a sign that there was something wrong with the carts. I couldn’t separate them well, so I took what I could, and muscled my wounded suitcase onto it.

Here’s where the clumsiness comes it. I couldn’t get it to move easily (I’m also the person who can’t get the automatic water going in the washroom on the train, the one who doesn’t realize the soda bottle has been shaken, the one who asks a question when the sign answering it is over her head). So I shoved it to the nearest help desk, but they told me they were Iberian Airways and I had to go to the British Airways desk at the other end of the hanger-sized room. I begged for help, but he couldn’t leave his desk, or call anyone to help me. I then realized the damn cart had a brake, and to release it you have to press and hold the bar as you push the cart.

The staff at the BA counter filed a damage claim, and then I asked what next: could the wheel be repaired? (In another world, another time, someone could have gone out to the hold of the plane and found it — the entire corner of the case had come off as a unit with the wheel, so it wasn’t a small item.) They said maybe, but would I like a new case instead? Yes? Roll down to the other desk way down here by Carousel 8 please…

The case, once they found a comparable size, was much heavier, plastic, and zippered (three strikes). They said I could take it and leave my bag, never to be seen again. I said no, that really wasn’t comparable to my lightweight, hard-latched bag. So they gave me a card with the claim number and said their company would contact me and bring me a better bag to my address, or repair. You mean the AirBnb I’m at for three days, while you can’t phone me because I’m in the British Library all day?

I looked down at my damaged case. If I tilted it onto the small end, the end with two wheels, I could kind of pilot it. I decided to keep it, and hope they could come and repair, bringing a wheel. I maneuvered it onto the tube, and went to London. The taxi driver was less than thrilled lifting the bag twice to go less than a mile, but she managed.

The company called and offered me one of two hard-shell latch-closed bags in the under £200 price range if I wanted, since they could not repair a Flieks, only Samsonite. One was too big, the other too small, and the bigger one quite heavy. They could bring it to me before I left London, but only if I said OK in the next 20 minutes. I said well, how do I dispose of my old suitcase? He wasn’t sure. Then he said, are you at a hotel? I explained I was at an AirBnb. He said I could just leave it there with a note. I thought that would be very rude — I know that you’re not allowed to abandon rubbish, and that it isn’t easy to get collection for large items in the whole country, much less London. I decided no.

I then lost a whole afternoon running around London looking for a shopping trolley, a skateboard and bungee cords, a wheel and bolts with nuts, anything to restore some mobility. After two Robert Dyas shops, a call to John Lewis, three luggage shops, an email to a repair service (we don’t have parts for that brand), and an online chat with a Nisbet store rep (we can deliver tomorrow for only 15 pounds more!), I bought the only hand cart I found, which is heavy, and a pair of bungee cords. (The review of Robert Dyas said, “I don’t know where else in London I could even go for such things”, and they were right.)

Here’s the solution. True to metaphor, it is in some ways easier, in other ways more difficult. It’s easy to push, more so than the original four wheels. But the wheels are “dumb”, so it’s not as maneuverable, and of course it adds a lot of weight (about as much as those plastic cases I said no to).

First attempt, but can’t put handle down Re-engineered, without a degree in engineering

So now I’ll be clumsy, just because I didn’t like the options. Quite silly, really. I like this case but it can never be repaired, and I’ll certainly never again buy a four-wheeler with wheels that stick out. When I first looked at it online, my thought was, “won’t the wheels snap off?” But it got such good reviews, so I followed the crowd.

Instead of being hit by a taxi, I’m pushing an improvised suitcase all over England.

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