He just had to get it back.
His was a scene I had witnessed dozens of times over the years TSA has been in existence: arguing for a piece of luggage that was rightfully his and the TSA callously ignoring the claims because she was following the book, so to speak.
The Lost and Found office at the airport is never a place you want to spend any significant amount of time in any parallel universe. And yet, Mr. Joseph Wicker - or perhaps it was Vicker - was red-faced and fuming at the agent.
I note that I didn’t catch the name quite right because the agent had a heavy eastern European accent so I’m not sure if she was pronouncing it Wicker or Vicker. For story continuity, he’s Joseph Wicker.
I, myself, had time to kill between flights so I listened in.
Given what I’ve seen in airports across this great land, I knew where the conversation would go, but I didn’t know how it would end. Of course the TSA agent always had the trump card – airport security – that they relied on heavily to bail them out. I’ve seen the mightiest of angry passengers back down at the mention of airport security, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
Wicker, a man of 50 perhaps, portly and balding stood across from Irina, Badge No. 082912 with his arms folded on top of the counter.
“Ma’am, I have everything I need except for my hat.”
“Sir, that is not your hat. It does not have any identification inside and it could by anybody’s hat. In fact, I could claim it’s my hat, couldn’t I?”
“Yes, ma’am, you could claim it’s yours but it’s not. It’s mine. In fact, I can even tell you how it fits on my head without me even wearing it now. It’s snug. It has a lot of sweat stains from me wearing it often.”
“Mr. Wicker. I understand your desire to prove your point, but most hats have sweat stains in them, and this is not an OJ Simpson trial.”
Interesting tact. That little fact told me she’s been in the States a long time. Simpson’s defense came up with a catchy line: ‘if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.’
“OJ Simpson? What are you talking about? I know the hat fits me snugly. I bought it that way.”
“Mr. Wicker, you have successfully identified all your other luggage, but because the hat was loose and without identification, I’m afraid you have everything you need. Next!” she said, looking beyond Mr. Wicker.
“Now wait. You can’t just blow me off like that. I’d like to speak to your manager.”
Ugh, Joseph. Much too early in the argument to request the manager. You need to rile her up a bit.
“I am the onsite shift manager,” Irina said. “What is your grievance?”
“Then I’d like to speak with your supervisor.”
Now, technically, government employees are required by law to fetch their managers when a customer asks for them. They have protocols built around protocols surrounding other protocols to protect their name and reputation and to avoid lawsuits. I checked my watch. I still had two hours until my flight. This was going to get fun.
“Whoa whoa whoa. What are you doing?”
“Next passenger, please.”
Wicker turned around and told the well-dressed lady to wait right where she was. The angry man looked at the agent’s nametag. “Miss…Irina, badge number zero-eight-two-nine-one-two, we have not concluded our conversation. Yes, I have most of my luggage that your airline lost but I do not have my hat. That is my hat sitting right over there on the counter. I’m not sure how it got here along with my luggage but it is, and I am not leaving until I have my hat in my hand.”
“Next!” Irina said, looking around Wicker. “Please come forward, Miss.” She motioned with her fingers to come closer.
“No, don’t come forward. I am not through with Irina, TSA badge number 082912.”
“Sir, I am telling you for the last time. If there is no identification in your hat, then it cannot be yours. We are required by law to only return lost items if the luggage has at least the name of the owner inside the article.”
She paused and went to the hat, lifted it, and checked the inside.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. If no one claims this hat in 30 days it will be destroyed. Now that is the proper procedure in this instance. Now if you will move aside, I need to provide service to these passengers who have been waiting patiently. Step aside…now!”
“You just admitted that no one will be able to identify the hat because there’s no identification in it. You really need to alter your stupid protocols.”
As if on cue, Irina TSA badge number 082912 tilted her neck towards the hand microphone clipped to her collar. “Security, please come to Lost and Found Lower Level.”
“Security? Are you nuts?” Joseph asked. “Are you out of your mind? I just want my hat. That’s all. Is that too much to ask?”
Within the minute, two uniformed airport security men flung open the door and had Wicker handcuffed and escorted out the door. Wicker, of course, resisted the entire time they had him in their possession. His face was red as they paraded him by the luggage carousels. I lost track of what he was screaming about after the door closed.
Irina TSA badge number 082912 took care of my business and located my luggage right away. I figured I’d have problems when I saw the baggage handlers flinging bags without ever checking the tags. Slight inconvenience to check the bags.
As I was leaving, a fiery redhead pulled the door open. In her hand was a hat identical to the hat Mr. Wicker claimed was his.
Irina smiled and said, “You must be Mrs. Wicker.”
Mrs. Wicker nodded.
“Airport security is taking your husband to the first floor holding cell. You may go there to claim him in a few minutes.”
Then Irina added with a smile, “Nice hat.”