The Five Stages of Grief as it Pertains to Luggage Loss

Something terrible happened to me on my way to BlogHer. Southwest Airlines lost my suitcase, something that had never happened to me before. It was extremely devastating to me and threw me off kilter for a solid day and a half, maybe more.

I imagine that it was less traumatizing for Southwest.

Upon realizing that I had arrived in Chicago but my luggage had not, my first instinct was to cancel all my conference plans and immediately board a plane back to DC where I could live in the sweatpants and t-shirts that live in my drawers and were not en route to some undisclosed location.

I spent a chunk of time shuffling back and forth in one place going over the pros and cons of the run-home plan before I began to work my way through the five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief is the common term for the Kübler-Ross model stating that when faced with the reality of an extreme, awful fate, an individual will experience a series of emotional states: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

In case you aren’t familiar with Ms. Kübler-Ross’ work, I will walk you through a simple (extreme, awful) example prior to describing the luggage debacle.

Let’s say your two male gerbils have babies. Let’s go with that extreme, awful example.

Denial: Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Overwhelming visual evidence be dammed.

Anger: The pet store sold me a boy and a girl but told me they were two boys. I should firebomb the pet store, but instead of throwing Molotov cocktails, I will lob hamster balls full of infant gerbils.

Bargaining: If the mother gerbil doesn’t have any more babies, I promise to never put an embarrassing hat on a gerbil again. I’m sorry, gerbil gods. I’m sooooorry.

Depression: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Acceptance: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Are you clear on the five stages now? Good. Let’s discuss these five stages as they apply to arriving in Chicago for a blogging conference with no clothes but for those on your back and no toothbrush but for those on sale at Walgreen’s.

Denial: Huh, I am the only person standing here at this baggage claim carousel. I’m sure that just means that I’m early. Or late. Don’t worry, Stimey, your bag is going to come. That one suitcase sadly traveling around the carousel wasn’t mine last time it went around, but maybe this time I will be. I should check the luggage tag again. My suitcase isn’t lost. That would be absurd. Airlines specialize in getting luggage to where it is supposed to go. My luggage isn’t lost.

Anger:  My luggage is lost. What’s that, baggage claim lady? You don’t track the luggage? You won’t know where it is until you find it in the wrong place? You have no idea where the suitcase is or how long it will take to get to Chicago? You will deliver my suitcase to my hotel when you find it MAYBE tonight? Look, baggage claim lady, I know you didn’t personally send my luggage to American Samoa or wherever it ended up, but you are making it really hard to not yell at you right now.

The great thing about the Anger stop on the Kübler-Ross scale is that you don’t have to choose just one target. Nor do you have to be rational about it. After Alex was less than supportive about my great loss (i.e. he did not teleport to Chicago to FIND MY LUGGAGE FOR ME FIND IT NOW I CAN’T GO TO BLOGHER WITHOUT MY LUGGAGE FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT NOW!), I turned my rage on him in a series of passive aggressive long pauses between hostile texts. It’s an art.

Bargaining: If my suitcase arrives before I go to sleep, I will never ever roll my eyes dramatically when an airline wants to charge me $12 for a small packet of peanuts and two ounces of vodka. Okay. I will still roll my eyes, but I do promise to always give my trash to the flight attendant when she walks through the cabin before landing instead of stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of me. And I promise to stop stealing barf bags and ripping out photos of dogs that look like my dog from the in-flight magazine.

Depression: This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Everything is gray. They will never find my bag. ALL of my cute clothes were in there. My running shoes were in there. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RUN AGAIN. I am sure going to miss my favorite hair brush. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO BRUSH MY HAIR AGAIN. Whhhhyyyy does everything bad always happen to meeeeeeee?

Acceptance: It is 10pm. Not only is my luggage not at the hotel, but the people at the airline still don’t even know where it is. My luggage is not coming. I will go to the Walgreen’s down the street from my hotel to buy toothpaste, underwear, a new hairbrush (sob!), deodorant, and boxer shorts to sleep in. I will also think that I bought a toothbrush, but will actually not have done so, leaving me to brush my teeth by scrubbing them with a washcloth smeared with toothpaste. I am prepared to wear the same purple shirt and old jeans for the next four days. It will not be okay, but it is happening.

And that’s how you deal with luggage loss.

You will be pleased to know that I was woken at 1 am with a phone call from the airline that woke both me and my roommate from deep sleeps. The woman on the phone told me that my suitcase would be delivered sometime between 1 and 5 am.

“Do I have to be in the lobby to get it?” I asked.

And then the woman laughed at me. “No,” she said. “Go back to sleep. We’ll leave it with the front desk.” Then she laughed some more, no doubt imagining me in my boxer shorts and washcloth-scrubbed teeth sitting forlornly in the lobby at four in the morning.

The airlines taught me a valuable lesson that day. They taught me that I should avoid checking my luggage at all costs. They taught me that if I do have to check my luggage, that I should put my favorite hairbrush, pajamas, and one change of clothes in my carry-on bag. Also, if you have to re-buy your toiletries, double check that a toothbrush makes it into your shopping bag.

That is the lesson the airlines taught me. The lesson I learned is that the airlines lost my suitcase once, which obviously means that I’ve paid my dues and that it will never get lost again, so I should start packing my valuables in checked luggage all the time. It’s how probability works, people.

15 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Grief as it Pertains to Luggage Loss

  1. On our way to India, they lost our luggage. Then the same airplane running the same flight lost Allan’s luggage when he joined me in India two months later. My luggage appeared three days later. His luggage never made it; they shipped it back to Virginia when they found it. We learned to pack the necessaries in the carry-on, and just buy the clothes you need when you get to India from a local tailor. Its cheaper than the luggage fees now, anyway.

  2. I was in the middle of packing for Florida when I saw your tweets about losing your luggage. I immediately took a clean pair of underwear and a t-shirt out of my check bag and put it in my carry-on. I didn’t want to tempt the airline gods by thinking it couldn’t happen to me too! See the good you put out into the world!

  3. This is so much more entertaining than my endless BlogHer recaps. I wish *I’d* lost my luggage.

    Okay, no, I don’t. But is it wrong to be not entirely devastated that you did?

  4. Air travel sucks. All of it. It’s a mess and I swear they’re taught the art of the “there’s nothing I can do about this awful situation” shrug in airline employee training.

  5. One Thanksgiving, I left my child’s backpack on the airplane. As soon as I left the secure area, I realized it. I ran back, was denied the chance to get the bag, despite much persuasive begging about how the baby she sleeps with is in the bag OMG do you realize nobody in my house is going to sleep until that bag is found?!? Also, there is a bottle of breastmilk in that backpack. you DO NOT want this to sour on you. PLEEASE… I told them EXACTLY which seat we were in, but the rat bastard airline attendant said it wasn’t on the plane. Then, when the plane landed in FLORIDA (I was in ALBANY), I told them my sad story, and an airline attendant said “YES! I have your bag. Give me a fedex number RIGHT NOW and I will mail it to you.” Um….I don’t have one. I’ll get one and call you back. And then, for the next seven days, I left messages with the Florida baggage claim for Southwest with my FEDEX number but the bag never came. I still hate them for that. I guess that means I’m still in the ANGER stage of this whole thing. It was several years ago.

  6. Gosh it’s a long time since I read Kubler Ross. Such a good book.

    Friends of mine lost their luggage on their way to their own wedding. Lost all their wedding clothes and didn’t have time to wait for bags to be found. The airline allowed them 40 mins to re-buy everything they needed for the occasion in an upmarket airport shop with unlimited funds. They said it was like supermarket sweep! They came away with stacks of fantastic clothes far better than their original ones, which they got back eventually anyway. Interestingly the injection of unlimited, albeit brief, wealth seemed to fast forward the stages of grief pretty effectively.

  7. I love Joeymom’s idea! Buying local helps the community, AND you have something to remind you of your travels.

    I enjoy travel; it’s the getting there that I can’t stand! My problem is missing the flight altogether. This has happened three times, and it does involve denial and bargaining. [Why didn’t I take a cab? Oh no, there’s a detour?! If I make this flight, I promise I’ll let my neighbors have the armrests.]

    The only time I lost luggage, it preceded me to my destination! Apparently, Travelpro [aptly named] caught an earlier connecting flight in Chicago, and was waiting for ME in the unclaimed baggage area. :)

  8. Just remembered something funny [to me, anyway].
    I used to pack five DISTINCT non-matching outfits, and maybe three pairs of shoes, for a five day business trip. As if someone were keeping track of what I wore. [They weren’t; and if they were, they have forgotten by now.]

    Now, I just wear black slacks & jacket or sweater, and pack various tops & accessories, [and undies & socks of course]. Everything fits in a tote bag, which can actually BE crammed into the overhead bin. Next time I travel, I might buy the accessories when I get there!

    Did I mention I don’t like to travel? :)

  9. When I moved to Ireland for my Master’s program, TWA not only left me sitting on the tarmac in BWI for 5 hours, bringing me to hot and sweaty tears about missing my connecting flight in New York, they also lost my luggage for 5 weeks and refused to give me more than 100 dollars (about 60 Irish pounds at the time) to buy a whole new wardrobe. It was awesome. I got 1 pair of jeans and 2 shirts and some underwear. I was so glad to see those two suitcases show up. Even if they had been sitting in New York for five weeks — they didn’t even have any interesting stories to relate. I was happy that they went out of business.

  10. Now is a good time to start plotting revenge. Revenge fantasies always make me feel better.

  11. Enjoyed. Lost luggage usually eventually appears. My sister went to Israel and her luggage landed in India and she wore her teenaged daughter’s clothes the whole trip. Daughter was no thrilled they fit mom. Eventually arrived at end of trip.

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