02 May 2006

Hungary - Country 87 with an Asterisk

The prime rule for being able to a country to the list of countries which you have visited is that you MUST leave the airport. That is the only real rule I have for this make believe contest and perhaps you must eat a meal when you leave the airport in order to say that you have really been in that country. Today I made a quick transit into and out of Hungary. As I exited my plane I saw the TRANSIT PASSENGERS sign pointing one direction and the Baggage Claim and Customs booth the other direction. I had 2 ½ hours between flights and could have easily left the airport and been able to count this as country 87 but I didn’t. Instead I went to the transit desk to reconfirm my onward passage as I had been told to do by the ticketing agent in Sweden. This is the same ticket agent who forgot to place a baggage claim sticker on the back of my ticket after retagging my bag for the third time. He made a joke about how his day wasn’t going well and it was still quite early. I asked him to place my Frequent Flyer number in my record and that took nearly 5 minutes to do only to find out that the airline does not participate in any Frequent Flyer programme.

So back to the Transit desk in Budapest.

This uniformed woman with short dark hair takes about 40 seconds before looking up at me as I am standing first in line. She asks for my ticket which I hand to her. She asks if I have any luggage checked and I respond in the affirmative. She asks for the baggage sticker. I look at my ticket and there is not one there. I know that the man in Sweden gave and retracted 2 baggage stickers but he must have not given me the 3rd one. I said to the woman that the person who processed my ticket in Sweden was having a bad day and that it was likely the case that the third time he did my baggage sticker he simply forgot to place it on my ticket.

Judging from the reaction of this woman upon telling her this story you would have thought I had just told her that something that completely undermined her basic understanding of life.

“Sir, there are three things expected of you when you travel – your passport, your ticket and you baggage claim ticket”

“Sir, I cannot imagine that someone who works at an airport would not provide you with a baggage sticker”

I asked her if she thought I was lying for some reason. I suggested that it was too early in the morning for her to be so angry at a random traveler.

“Sir, how can I help you if you don’t have a baggage ticket?”

I said the plane is just right there – we could see it – that I could go out and identify my baggage and most likely the sticker the gentlemen neglected to give me in Stockholm would be found.

“Sir, you may not go near the plane. Without the baggage ticket I cannot guarantee that the bag will make it to Skopje”

But the tags clearly had SKP on them I said. Wouldn’t they be routed to Skopje even though I didn’t have a baggage claim ticket?

“Sir, without this ticket we do not know whether your bags will make it to their final destination”

OK, OK!! I got it. Thank you for your help. I am sorry that I disturbed your day.

About 20 minutes later I went to the same desk but a different person. I explained the exchange with the previous person and asked whether there was anything I could do to assure that my luggage made it to Skopje. She walked over to the woman and they spoke for a moment and then returned to me.

“Sir, she told you that your bag would be fine and it would make it to Skopje what more are you seeking?”

WHAT? She never said that. You have to be kidding? Why would I come up to you and tell you something that someone told me if it were not true?

“Sir, I don’t know why you would do that!”

I went and sat down and decided against leaving the airport.

My bag arrived in Skopje and was the first bag on the carousel.

Hungary will always have an asterisk next to it.

HUNGARY* Country 87

(* = derailed by two helpful women at the transit desk)

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