My last day in Cyprus I committed the worst mistake of my traveling life. I left my briefcase in the taxi as it dropped me off at the airport at 4 AM.
On flying days, I always pack knowing that my suitcase may have to be checked. I never proactively check it, but 1 in 100 times I have to, and if I do and it gets lost, I don’t want my valuables to be lost with it. Therefore I consolidate my most valuable objects (laptop, notebook, Kindle, iPod) in my briefcase.
My last morning in Cyprus, I set my alarm to 3 AM. I had a 5:30 AM flight out of Larnarca which is 40 minutes away from the Hilton in Nicosia. The hotel had reserved a taxi to pick me up at 3:30 AM.
In my half-asleep doze, I rolled out of bed, grabbed my bags, went into the lobby to check-out. The guy working the check-out counter was exceedingly friendly but did not seem to understand that I wanted my United mileage number to be put onto the reservation — you can earn United miles at the Hilton.
I was a bit of a dick to him as I was tired and frustrated he couldn’t get it done. After 10 minutes of discussion, I gave up and went out to the waiting taxi.
The taxi driver took my suitcase and put it in the trunk. I don’t normally like to do this — I prefer it in the backseat with everything else. But this time I put it in the trunk, put my briefcase in the backseat, and my suitcase in the front seat with me.
We started driving. The driver was awfully chatty for 3:30 AM. He asked about San Francisco and America. He asked me lots of questions. I became less and less responsive and tried to close my eyes, hoping to squeeze in another minute or two of sleep. Finally he got the point and stopped talking to me.
We arrived at the airport. I bounced out and put my suit jacket on. The driver went to the trunk and took out my suitcase. The hotel had pre-paid for the taxi. I shook his hand and went on my way. It’s about 4:15 AM.
I went into the terminal and waited for ~25 minutes to check-in. Wait, wait, wait. Finally, I get to the counter, check-in, get my boarding pass, and walk to passport control. There’s a line here, too, but I get through it and arrive at the security check point and x-ray machines. It’s about 4:30 AM. I wait and then begin to put my items on the conveyer belt. An agent says, “Take out your laptop and put it in a bin.” I look around.
HOLY SHIT WHERE IS MY BRIEFCASE WITH LAPTOP, KINDLE, IPOD, IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS, ETC???
A moment of panic struck me. I froze for about two seconds. Then I moved quickly. I’m actually impressed with how swiftly I took action. I jogged back to the passport control area to exit. But they said they had to hold onto my passport if I exited the area. They opened up a side door that I slipped out of and I started running to the check-in counter. I looked around. By this point my gut feeling was I had left the bag in the taxi, but I couldn’t be sure. I looked around. Then I ran outside where the taxi dropped me off. Nothing. I asked the taxi drivers who will milling around outside if they had seen it. They didn’t understand my English.
I walked to the information desk. An extremely understanding woman was working at the desk. She spoke perfect English and vowed to help me. First, she pulled out the hotel directory to find the phone number for the Hilton. Since the hotel reserved the taxi, perhaps it could call the taxi company which could call the specific driver. (Had I hailed the taxi off the street, of course, I would have been screwed.) She called the Hilton and handed the phone to me. The man on the other line had been the same who checked me out. I instantly regretted not being more friendly with him.
He told me he’s call the taxi company. He told me to call back in 5 minutes for an update. I hung up, and then walked to the airline to explain the situation. They told me there was no way I was going to make the flight. It was already 4:45 AM and the flight boards at 5:15 AM. Even if the taxi has my bag and turns around to return to the airport, there wouldn’t be time. I’d miss my flight to London and my connecting flight to San Francisco. I implored them to just alert the gate agents that I would be running late. They said they would, but made no promises.
My mind started racing, thinking through all the implications. Like: Ok, my laptop is lost, what data do I have on there that’s confidential? What data isn’t backed up? How much will it cost to buy a new one and get data recovered? What notes do I have on my notebook that aren’t stored elsewhere? How will I re-schedule my United flight to SF?
I went back to the information desk and called the Hilton. He told me he spoke to the driver, the driver confirmed he still had the bag in the backseat, and had turned around to come back to the airport. It would take 40 minutes. I thanked the Hilton guy profusely and hung up. I then went back to the airline agents and told him the taxi had my bag and would be here in 20 minutes, so I will make the flight. They looked skeptical but said they’d try to wait for me.
I paced around the airport curbside, anxiously waiting for the familiar looking taxi to pull up. In my wallet I had USD $40 and 30 Euros and some coins. I would give the driver all of it. He deserved to be paid the equivalent for a one-way fare back to the airport, plus more. After all, he could steal the bag and make off with ~$3k of electronics.
He pulled up, I grabbed the bag, paid him the cash, and started running. I ran into passport control, grabbed my passport, ran into the security line, cut everyone in line (with their permission), figured the x-ray guy wouldn’t actually be paying attention so didn’t take laptop or toiletries out of my bag, made it to the other side without incident, and then started running (with my shoes off and in my hands) to my gate. They were half-way through boarding.
I was sweating and a nervous wreck. And I had made it. I got lucky. Had I been in another country — one with more crime and more corrupt cabs — my bag would have been gone in a second. Had I hailed a taxi off the street, I would have been toast. Had the timing been a few minute different, I would have missed my flight and connection to SF.
It was a rookie mistake, I got lucky, and I hope never to leave a bag in a taxi again.