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Illustration by Erick M. Ramos

We returned recently from a southern holiday to Antigua. Our flight home meant changing planes twice – first in Toronto – then in Vancouver - to reach our home city of Yellowknife.

Since we’ve all heard the disaster stories of luggage being lost, I purchased a little extra insurance. Within the bag was my AirTag, a small device that can be tracked using an app on your phone. But on this trip I learned that while an AirTag provides some reassurance that your stuff is travelling with you, it also offers some comic relief when your stuff gets lost. And my recent lost luggage drama was unsurpassed by any past travel.

We flew home on a Friday, and my wife and I made it through Toronto with our luggage just fine. As we landed in Vancouver, my phone told me that my bag was still with me - somewhere in the terminal area. After a short layover, Pam and I boarded the plane to the Northwest Territories. It was packed with locals and a significant number of aurora borealis tourists.

My phone reported that my luggage was on a cart beside the aircraft. And there it would remain. When the plane pushed back from the terminal, I said goodbye. I was frustrated but less so than if we were heading out on our holiday instead of returning home. I was still in relaxed holiday mode.

On arrival in Yellowknife, we walked over to the baggage counter and did the required paperwork to register the delayed bag. The agent didn’t seem surprised and others on our flight were also missing bags. We were told it would arrive on the next day’s evening flight from Vancouver.

I do feel bad about the tourists though. I cannot imagine the dilemma and drama of not having cold-weather gear to watch and wait for the Northern Lights. Pam and I went home to waited for our luggage to show up so we could wash that dirty laundry.

On Saturday morning, my phone noted that my bag remained in the Vancouver terminal. Near loading time for that evening flight, it still didn’t move and missed its flight. Again.

The bag didn’t get far on Sunday either.

On Monday, I had meetings in Edmonton and flew down on another airline that serves the North (no baggage issues). While at the Yellowknife airport, I asked the major airline about my lost bag and what was happening and discovered that dozens and dozens of bags were accumulating in Vancouver. Apparently, the airline was selling seats on the daily direct flight to Yellowknife knowing that the aircraft could not accommodate the associated baggage.

To my surprise, later that Monday evening my phone let me know that my bag and its AirTag were mysteriously flying to Edmonton. Now this was odd because the airline my bag was stuck on had no flights to Yellowknife from Edmonton. Was it going to be sent over on another airline perhaps? My spirits picked up. I called the baggage service line but the agent didn’t know what was going on.

Since I was in Edmonton anyway, I thought about going to the airport to retrieve it but the airport was some distance from my meeting and I was unsure if I could get there in time. I watched as the bag sat in Edmonton for a period and then – low and behold – it flew to Calgary! But the airline that had my bag also has no flights to Yellowknife from Calgary. What gives?

I called Baggage Services again, no info.

I’m always amazed at how few Canadians appreciate or understand our geography. The people I spoke with were in Montreal. They had no clue about the distances, locations and travel involved to reach Yellowknife.

Tuesday began. The bag now began its new journey. It left Calgary and appeared to be being driven back to Edmonton. The AirTag app indicated its location on a map that refreshed about every 10 minutes, so I could see it was travelling along the highway. It stopped at numerous locations, presumably for gas and coffee. It ended back at the airport. After a number of hours, it began moving north, still on its road trip.

Hilariously the bag actually passed me – metres away from my Edmonton meeting location.

I had no idea what was going on.

The bag was overnighted at a hotel in Valleyview, Alberta. I was pleased when it left in the morning heading north to Peace River, Alta., versus west to Grand Prairie. Things were looking up.

Numerous stops along the highway made me conclude this was not a major trucking carrier: They don’t take breaks like that. I suspect it was a contracted highway courier making a special run to get all these bags left in Vancouver to Yellowknife. If you’re curious, it’s a 1,700 km highway trip from Calgary to Yellowknife.

When I called the airline later that day and asked why my bag was in northern Alberta they argued that it had caught the flight from Vancouver and was in Yellowknife. I mentioned I had an AirTag in the bag and could see its location but received no additional details. I don’t think they understood what I was talking about.

Undaunted by the airline’s cluelessness, I was relieved as it continued north from High Level, Alta. The connection was then lost as it left cellular range but was picked up again near Fort Providence.

But I wasn’t convinced I’d be getting it back until my app reported its location just outside of Yellowknife. Once it got to the Yellowknife airport parking lot, Pam drove over. She reported that dozens and dozens of bags had arrived in a truck. The driver was friendly and he helped her find my blue bag in the pile, but he also had no details of the roundabout bag charade.

I was grateful that someone at the airline was trying to do something about the luggage debacle. The irony and frustration was that no one in their baggage services department or Yellowknife airport was aware of the effort.

Daily calls to the baggage services department throughout this period were useless. The agent’s repeated apologies came with the regular line: “I’m escalating the issue in our system.” They seemed to just be following a pre-set script.

I’m always packing my AirTag now. It provides both peace of mind and real information, and maybe a little bit of anxiety while observing your bag’s ridiculous routing. But that AirTag did give us a few incredulous laughs as our bag had more adventures than we did on its way home. Happy travels.

Peter Vician lives in Yellowknife.