I admit I can be defiant. There is an innate part of me that refuses, for whatever reason, to obey orders given by flight attendants. I don’t pay attention to safety procedure demonstrations and I have never read the safety information brochure in the seat pocket in front of me. I travel often, I know the drills, and I am usually fast asleep before the plane takes off.
On a recent flight from San Francisco to DC, my rebellious nature proved almost catastrophic when I did not heed the instruction to “please check around your seat area for all personal belongings” before deplaning the aircraft.
During my layover in Chicago, I chatted with my friend Layla, one of several college friends I planned to visit on an east coast stop over on my way to Europe. I was in a great mood, still feeling the high that comes from jetting off for my next big adventure. The last few days leading up to my departure had been crazy busy as they always are before a big trip. I ran around the city checking off errands, appointments, and goodbye hugs. And then there was the arduous task of packing, which never gets easier for me and which I despise with a passion. I had settled into my window seat, gladly turning off all my electronic devices. I felt the sweet relief, excitement and exhaustion of knowing all is done and now I can just enjoy the ride. A huge weight had been lifted. All the stress of travel preparations would soon be rewarded with exciting adventures as I discover new places and people around the world.
I reminded Layla that she should pick me up in her husband’s SUV to accommodate my giant kitesurfing bag that weighed in at 50 pounds. As I searched inside my carryon bag, my fingers could not locate my external hard drive. In a New York minute my happy Zen place was crushed, replaced by a rising panic. “Layla! Oh my god!” I exclaimed, “I have to go, I think I left my hard drive on the plane!”
My adrenaline skyrocketed as I raced back to the gate at which I arrived. The problem was, I couldn’t remember what gate number that was. I was already 45 minutes into my layover and I feared the plane had already departed to its next destination. Out of breath, I struggled to articulate my dilemma to a patient Southwest Airlines representative. She calmly explained that the plane had indeed departed minutes earlier on its way to Birmingham, Alabama. She kindly offered to call the southern airport and request that someone search the plane upon arrival.
I thought of all my personal data on the drive. 450 GB of video clips from two solid years of traveling. 130 GB of music. 150 GB of photos, some more incriminating than others. Financial documents, personal thoughts and memories were now all in the hands of a stranger. My heart pounded in my chest, I was sweating and began to strip away the bulky layers of sweater, fleece and jacket I wore that I didn’t fit into my checked luggage.
I was furious at myself for being so careless. I began to place blame.
I blamed the chaotic days prior for leaving me more absent-minded than usual. I vowed that never again would I allow only three days to prepare for a big trip determining that a full week is required to prevent losing one’s mind and personal belongings.
I blamed my aging computer, that lacks the space available to hold all my memories and forces me to store externally. Of course I had all data backed up on a master hard drive that was safe inside a fire safe box under my bed in San Francisco. I vowed to buy a new computer or install additional storage space as soon as possible.
Ultimately, I blamed myself for being so forgetful.
As quickly as panic had risen, relief returned at the sight of the black case containing my precious hard drive in the hands of the smiling attendant named Kenny, who had discovered it under my seat.
“Kenny, you are my hero!” I exclaimed throwing my arms around his neck to his surprise.
A few hours later, I am again at peace in a new window seat, thankful for kind and honest people in this world. I see the bright lights of Washington DC approaching below.
And yes, before leaving the aircraft, I will be sure to check around my seat area for any personal belongings.