A luggage story

I would like to tell you a beautiful human story that happened to me a year ago, in February 2018, following an Air France flight to New York JFK. There are fantastic people, who we should all admire as role models on this planet, Heftzi is one of them. Read the full story to know why…

In February 2018, like every year, I left for the annual trip that I have been organizing since 2013 for my Master’s degree students in design and typography at the ECV. The day before, I learned that an Air France strike would take place the next day. Within a few hours, Air France offered a solution via email, and my direct flight to New York scheduled for 1pm transformed into a flight to Amsterdam at 7 am followed by a connecting KLM flight from Amsterdam to New York. This is where the story begins.

Will my suitcase be transferred to New York when I arrive in Amsterdam?

I arrived at Roissy Airport for my flight to Amsterdam very early that morning. Strangely enough, it’s an unbranded, white plane. A rental plane, no doubt? At the check-in counter I ask: will my suitcase be transferred to New York when I arrive in Amsterdam? The attendant tells me yes. I am perplexed because an unbranded plane, followed by a KLM flight, doesn’t fell right, knowing that my original tickets are on Air France. The first flight goes well. Upon my arrival at Schipol in Amsterdam, my first objective is to check if my suitcase will be transferred properly. The first person at the KLM desk does not seem to be able to answer my request, but another person eventually steps in. I was right: he confirms there is a problem with the redirection of the suitcase and corrects it by activating a function via a drop-down menu on his interface. Rather satisfied with my foresight, I regain confidence. Without my vigilance, my suitcase would have remained in Amsterdam. My journey resumed, and I boarded for New York JFK 2 hours later.

I arrive around 4 pm at JFK, a nice surprise forfor almost everyone queuing for passport and ESTA control. I am already anticipating in my mind everything I will be able to do once I arrive in Manhattan… But as soon as I go through security, I receive a text message informing me there is a problem with my suitcase and suggesting that I check with the desk in charge of lost luggage in the baggage…

My suitcase is not lost!

The first person I encounter doesn’t seem very cooperative, telling me that their desk is not in charge of KLM lost luggage. In fact, I quickly understand that each airline has its own way of handling lost luggage… Luckily, another person arrives. We exchange a few courteous words and she tells me her story in English (we are in New York): she understands French even if she doesn’t practice it much (she is of Haitian origin). She is not in charge of KLM, but she suggests we search out together the person in charge of Delta (Air France, KLM and Delta are all part of the Sky Team Alliance) who should be able to help me. This Delta person looks at his PC and tracks down my suitcase, which she says seems to have been left in Amsterdam. My suitcase is not lost! She explains that I have to go to the check-in area, to locate my suitcase more precisely and file a complaint. The area is almost empty, so the Delta people in charge of luggage check-in are easy to locate and ask for help. But these three people are not very efficient… their goal seems to to be to send me elsewhere as soon as possible, saying they cannot open a lost luggage file. They therefore propose that I change terminals in order to go to the Air France desk to open said file. I arrive at the Air France main desk around 5pm, and I explain my story for the 3rd time. I remain calm, relaxed, I have no reason to be aggressive, because my objective remains to find a positive solution to my problem. This Air France hostess tells me that there is an office on the lower floor dedicated to lost luggage that will open the file and help me. Upon arriving at this office, facing a counter, I can observe three young people spending time on social networks via their personal phones, without any desire to work. We exchange a few, unproductive words and I leave without a solution… they return to their social networks. I am a little depressed, but I my determination is intact. I return to the Air France desk, still as calm as ever, smiling in front of another attendant to whom I explain my story for the 4th time. This Air France attendant tells me that her supervisor is the right person for me. And 5 minutes later, I tell my story again for the 5th time to this lady, adding new features at every step….

Watch North by Northwest

During our discussion, I immediately noticed the last name on her badge: Kaplan. She’s friendly, and visibly she wants to help me. On her PC, she flocates my suitcase in 2 minutes and tells me that it should arrive later in the evening. It is plaguing these people in the Delta check-in area, then those in the office in charge of lost luggage, and rightly so. Even if my flight as initially on Air France, it has become a white flight + a KLM flight and she explains to me that logically, in this case, the complaint has to be logged in by the airport of arrival. It is now 6 pm, I tell her I’m not going to go back to the other terminal and find myself blocked again. I try to make small talk, telling her that Kaplan is the name of the lead role in Alfred Hithchock’s classic “North by Northwest”, played by Cary Grant. She tells me that her full name is Heftzi Kaplan and admits that she has never seen a Hithchock movie, “because they are scary”. I told him that this one is not like the others and recommended that she should see it one day…

A moment later, Heftzi Kaplan gives me her personal mobile number and offers to call me around 9pm tonight if no suitcase is delivered.

But let’s get back to the subject: my lost luggage. She calls the Delta people I had met earlier, and asks them to fill out the file, because this can only be done from their Delta PC at the arrival terminal. They refuse and then Heftzi Kaplan raises her voice and tells them to just open the file and she will do the job for them. She is rightly exceeded by their behavior. 15 minutes later, the file has been completed and she tells me that my baggage will be delivered tonight in Manhattan, that I have nothing to worry about. I’m confident, but I suggest I can stay here until around 9:00 pm, because without a suitcase… in Manhattan, I wouldn’t go very far. She convinces me by giving me the document indicating that my suitcase will be delivered to my AirBnb address. Immediately, I pointed out the indication at the top of the page that showed 10am–7pm opening hours, and explained that if my suitcase is not delivered tonight, my only alternative will be to wait until 10 am the next day to get information. I also explain that I have a busy day tomorrow, with a first appointment at 12:30 pm for a business lunch. A moment later, Heftzi Kaplan gives me her personal mobile number and offers to call me around 9pm tonight if no suitcase is delivered. I am very impressed by her sense of responsibility! We talk for a few minutes, and she gives me two Sky Team emergency kits with the basic necessities. I leave JFK for Manhattan, I should arrive at my AirBnb at about 8:30 pm, hoping that my suitcase will arrive as planned so I will in no way need to disturb this woman late at night. The situation is very embarrassing. But around 9:00 pm. I get a text message from her: “Good evening, This is Heftzi from AF. Record shows bag arrived jfk… I’m waiting for new update ”. What a surprise! We exchange 3 messages, but no suitcase was delivered that evening.

The luggage actually stayed at JFK yesterday

The next morning, I send an early text message to Heftzi around 8–9 am asking about my suitcase. Her answer: “Let me make some calls ”… I take this opportunity to send her a VOD link to the movie with George Kaplan, North by Northwest. Her answer: “Lol ” Then she lets me know that the luggage actually stayed at JFK yesterday, that the night staff did not do their job. We continue to converse, I try to explain how I designed the previous Air France logo in 1998…

A few minutes later, I receive a call from the delivery service on my French mobile number indicating that delivery requires a land line number, otherwise, the delivery of the suitcase is not legally possible. I tell him that I am in an AirBnb and that there is no land line… A little irate, I logically point out that international travelers are more likely to have cell phone numbers. What a crazy situation, a delivery service with whom I am talking on the phone that refuses to deliver because I don’t have a land line… In parallel via sms I explain this to Heftzi… who offers to provide her own number for the delivery service. But then she takes takes everything in her hands and tells me that she has solved the problem, that my suitcase will arrive at 12:00. So I’ll wait for my suitcase to arrive! Around 12:15 pm, I send a text message, to check in, because there is still no suitcase in sight. She answers me: “On its way… you’ll make your lunch don’t worry ” Then a little later… “It’s here ”. I’m not sure I understand what to do: “Do I have to go downstairs?”. She answers: “Yes… in front of the building.” I’m super glad to hear that my suitcase has finally arrived safely.

As I walk down the street, I imagine finding a delivery man, signing a paper… but actually, in the street, I spot Heftzi Kaplan smiling on the sidewalk with my suitcase. What a surprise, I’m very very very impressed. The “film” of this story comes back into my head in an instant… Just an incredible situation, not far from the pitch of a series, or the first episode of a series that will install characters during a chance encounter!

Heftiz Kaplan on the right

I thank her warmly for what she has done. Asking her for details: it’s her day off, and she decided to have the suitcase delivered to her home, to take a taxi and bring it herself to fix the problem. I am super generous… while being very impressed seeing that she did this, in the most humble, most human way possible. Let’s take a picture! I say that I must do everything I can to highlight her actions with Air France, it is totally deserved. She tells me that I have to contact her on each of my regular trips to New York, she will make sure that everything goes well. Then we say goodbye, she goes shopping, I, too happy to have found my suitcase and to be able to leave for my appointment a few minutes later. Of course I will tell this story several times in the following weeks.

But the story doesn’t stop there… because I have to do something to thank Heftzi. But what? Not flowers, it could be misinterpreted by her as well as bymy wife who stayed in Paris, so a French souvenir? Not easy, because I’m in New York. I decide to buy a box of chocolate from a French shop in Manhattan. My idea is to drop this box off when I leave for Paris 10 days later, on Sunday around 7pm. But that Sunday, around 2pm, I received a text message from Heftzi who offered to upgrade my seat. I try to refuse politely, but she insists; I accept and I find myself better placed on the evening plane. She told me that I had to go to an Air France desk when I arrived and that everything would be taken care of directly, no need to go to check in at the baggage check-in. That’s good, I was planning on dropping off that box of chocolate to her. She’s not here when I get there… so I texting her: “There is something for you in the hands of Alicia. Thanks again!” She answers me right away: “So sorry I missed you. Please keep in touch anytime traveling AF I will be more than happy to assist. All the best”. I am taken care of by Alicia, an Air France attendant, who takes care of everything, including ultra-fast passport control with the bonus of the Air France lounge to wait for my flight in peace.

This story had to be written on this flight a year later, and I hope Air France will read this incredible story.

Post Scriptum: On landing that day, I sent a text message to Heftzi telling her I’m in JFK, thanking her for her help the year before. 10 minutes later, Heftzi appears in front of me at the passport control area to speed up my passage and accompany me to the baggage reception area.

There are fantastic people, who we should all admire as role models on this planet, Heftzi is one of them.
(Thanks to Aaron Levin for his help on editing)

Published originally on Medium on 1st April 2019.

Jean François Porchez, 2 April 2019