Actually, to be fair, I don’t think the blame can be laid entirely at Alitalia’s door on this occasion – Heathrow was in pre-Christmas chaos. When we arrive in the baggage hall at T4 (no, not Terminator; Terminal), it’s piled high with abandoned luggage, as people have given up on their planes being unloaded, and gone home for the night. As one of the few English people on the flight, I’m all set to do the same thing, but the Italians are made of sterner stuff and are busy creating merry hell at the Alitalia desk. At one point, it even looks as if it’s about to turn into a fight, and a member of the airport police is called to defuse the situation. Thrilling!
While the Italians are bellowing, I have a quiet word with one of the ground staff about what is actually going on, and discover that, unless planes have to turn straight round and fly somewhere else, they are considered low priority and probably won’t be unloaded until the following day, when the new baggage staff come on duty. Luckily for me, however, Italians can all shout and gesticulate for – well – Italy. They aren’t going anywhere until they’ve had a good old row about it. The staff at the desk make frantic phone calls. The policeman puffs his chest out and moves people back six inches. Using his best Very Important Voice, he makes an announcement: “Sorry to the ones that can’t speak English, but I can’t speak Italian, so maybe some of you that can speak both can translate: your luggage will be in the hall in 15 minutes!” Somebody – it may be me, but I couldn’t possibly confirm – shouts, “Is that a promise?!” There are titters from the other English-speakers. He rises above it and ignores the heckling, merely gesturing in the direction of the conveyor belt. Sceptically we look and see that, far from there being a 15 minute wait, luggage is arriving now. Hooray! Joyously, we stampede towards our bags and out into the freezing cold sleet of a late-December night in London. I’m home at last.
Fast-forward three weeks, and I’m on my way back from England to Italy. Due to some serious shopping in England, there’s absolutely no way I can travel carry-on only, so once again I reluctantly have to check my luggage in. Being a good girl, I’ve followed airline guidelines and put my laptop and handbag into my hand luggage, which is regulation size. I’ve also packed a couple of pairs of shoes and most of my new books in there, so it’s pretty heavy. In contrast to when I first flew out to Italy, however, when the guy at check-in weighed my bags, lost his eyebrows into his hairline at how heavy they were, but let me take them on board anyway, the po-faced woman at the desk isn’t having any of it. I therefore transfer the shoes and books into my checked bag. Hand luggage still too heavy. Only at this point does she, with barely-concealed disdain, look at the contents of my hand luggage and ask if my handbag is in there. I reply in the affirmative, and also point out the laptop. “Oh, well you’ll have to carry that separately.” Christ. If I’d known that was allowed I’d have done it anyway. It’s a brand new Mac and I don’t need any excuse to clutch it to myself lovingly.
What this means, of course, is that pretty much everything is now in my checked bag. On an Alitalia flight. Which goes to Rome. Rome being the airport where Alitalia luggage goes to die. All I have with me now are electronics, money, and a nagging feeling that this is all going to end very badly …