Expat Magazine

The Royal (Air Maroc) Treatment

By Quinninmorocco

We had a plan.

Between Mustapha and me, we only needed to check one bag. That was plenty of clothing and assorted other necessities (and even a few indulgences!) with a reasonable amount of room to bring stuff back from our two week exchange program in America. We were flying with Royal Air Maroc, and they actually guaranteed us two checked bags each—but that sounded excessive. And a bit burdensome. We only needed to check one bag.

As the two weeks in America ensued, however, there were more trips to Target. And more back-to-school bargains. And books. And sales at clothing stores. And souvenirs. And treats for our dog. About two days before our departure, I stood in front of the luggage section at the Target in Austin, Texas, and contemplated buying another bag. “We can use a little carry-on anyways,” I convinced myself as I pulled down a gray little number. It was that easy to deviate from the plan. And it was also that easy to fit all of the gifts we bought—for ourselves and for others—into that bag.

Because of its weight and a 12-hour layover in New York, we decided to check our little fling of a bag with our larger red suitcase—the plan A bag. We left Austin around 6 in the morning. Along with the 13 other people who were participating in the exchange program, we checked our bags and watched our red and gray suitcases move along the conveyor belt and into the belly of the beast. “They’ll be sent directly to Casablanca,” the Jet Blue desk lady assured us. Excellent. See you then, baggage.

Waiting at the baggage pick-up of any airport is an exercise in patience and illusion. I’ve never had my bags come out first. It’s almost as if the first 30 bags that snake around the track are stunt-bags (Were those people even on your flight who are picking up the first bags?!)…and yet every single one ALMOST looks like yours. I spotted bright green bags that made me do a double-take (“Is it the lighting? That COULD be red…”) and small black bags that I came close to lifting off of the conveyor belt because they looked so much like my gray bag. (Kinda. Almost. From this angle.) One by one, each bag was getting claimed. Our group slowly pieced together their belongings. More waiting. Our red suitcase came. More waiting. More waiting. More waiting.

Empty conveyor belt.

I’ve never quite understood the logistics of lost luggage. Where, exactly, did it go? And for this situation specifically— how is it possible that, in a group of 15 people who checked in at the same time, going from the same city to the same destination, our gray bag just…didn’t make it? Mustapha and I had checked in one bag right after the other. Why did the red one show up? Why didn’t the gray one? Where the hell was the gray one?

We dutifully filed a report with Royal Air Maroc. The process was straightforward: hand over your passport, sign a few papers, confirm the color of your luggage, and get a copy of your receipt. “Call this number tomorrow morning,” the RAM representative told us, pointing to a phone number on the paper. “We will ship it to Fes to you, no problem. Usually bags show up in a day.”

Mustapha had a missed call from a random number when he woke up the next morning. Thinking that it was our baggage, he called the number back. No answer. He called again. And once more. And then another time, for good measure. No answer. He then got the receipt and called the RAM number on that paper. “No, your luggage has not arrived,” they told us. “Try again tomorrow.”

So we called again the next day. And the day after that. And the rest of the week. Each time, even though we were citing the number on the receipt and matching it with my name and birthday and birthstone and horoscope sign, nothing was turning up as a match.

Until Mustapha got a call, about a week later. We were in Marrakech.

“Your baggage has been in Fes for a week,” RAM representative in Fes told us. “When are you going to pick it up?”

Honestly, we were so glad to hear that our little gray suitcase that could had made it to Fes (with all gifts intact!), that we didn’t really worry too much about the, um, lack of efficiency in the whole process. Lost baggage is never an easy road, right?

Except RAM was refusing to hold our luggage for us. “Like we said, it’s been here a week. You need to come pick it up. We cannot hold it for you.” Or else…?

After a bit of negotiating by Mustapha (“You lost our baggage, told us our baggage was not in Fes for a week when it was, and now want us to pick it up immediately because you don’t hold baggage…? Am I missing something?”), RAM agreed to hold onto our bag until we returned to Fes the next week.

Two days later, another call—this time, from an RAM representative in Casablanca. “Great news—we have found your baggage! It’s here in Casablanca,” they informed us. “Would you like to pick it up here, or should we ship it to Fes?”

We thought the safest plan of action was to request that all luggage—real or imagined—should be shipped to Fes. The RAM representative kindly complied.

Upon our return to Fes, we visited the airport. Fes Saiss Airport is tiny. If you’re driving yourself, there are only two options: parking your car in a lot, or driving up to the front to drop off. Not being regular drivers to the Fes Saiss Airport, we drove to the front of the building. Sensing some hesitation, the gendarme (Moroccan policeman equivalent) standing next to the turn approached our window.

“Traveling?” he asked.

“We’re actually here to pick up luggage that was lost. It shouldn’t be too long. Where should we park?”

“Oh, you can go ahead and park there,” he said, motioning towards the road that led to the drop-off area up-front.

So we did. Except once we parked the car, another gendarme, standing near the entrance of this area, waved us down.

“You can’t park here,” he told us authoritatively. “It’s just for taxis.”

Like clockwork, a black, non-taxi vehicle that had been parked in the lot pulled out slowly, passed by the gendarme, and drove away.

“What about that car? It’s not a taxi.” Mustapha asked.

“Like I said, this lot is just for taxis.” the gendarme repeated. “Can you not read the sign right there?”

Mustapha tried logic just one more time. “What about those three cars parked next to my car that aren’t taxis?” His hand pointed in the direction of—you guessed it—three cars parked next to his car that indeed weren’t taxis.

“What cars? This lot is just for taxis.”

There is a moment in every person with a pulse’s life when they are confronted by, well, idiocy. It’s unfortunate every time, but always a bit more painful when the idiocy is being perpetuated by someone in a position of power. You can bend, or you can break. We opted for the latter– much more zesty.

“Okay, well, if you can’t see those cars, you can’t see my car either.”

We walked past the gendarme and towards the entrance of the Fes Saiss Airport. I felt badass by association. I felt the adrenaline rush. I felt some sort of rock ballad playing as a slight breeze ran through my hair. I felt unstoppable.

At the entrance, though, we were stopped by another set of gendarmes. “Passport and ticket please.”

I handed over my passport and the receipt from RAM’s missing baggage society. “I had a flight about 3 weeks ago and they lost my luggage. It just arrived. I don’t have a ticket.”

The gendarme sighed one of those massive, overly-dramatic, be-sure-I-am-doing-you-a-favor sighs. “I GUESS you can go through. But where is your passport?”

Mustapha looked quizzically at this gendarme—the second to defy logic in mere moments. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m just here to pick up luggage.”

“No, she is here to pick up luggage. Her name is on the luggage receipt.”

“Well, yes, that is correct, but see, we’re married, so it’s actually OUR luggage. And I’m here to pick it up too.”

“I can’t let you pass without a passport. This is how things work in Morocco.”

“Here’s my Moroccan identity card.”

“I can’t let you pass without a passport.”

A fun verbal back-and-forth began between logic and law of the land. The gendarme felt no need to be flexible in this situation. And Mustapha felt no need to hold back, in any way, his disdain for the gendarme. After a few minutes—and blocking way too many innocent bystanders from entering—I went in without Mustapha.

Mustapha is typically my translator in these highly-technical situations. Left to my own devices, I started at the information desk. Rookie move. The information desk attendant gave me detailed directions to what ended up being an empty room. With no one resembling a RAM administrative person in sight and out of other obvious options, I went ahead and stood in line for check-in at the RAM desk.

The woman at the check-in desk listened patiently as I stumbled through my 4th grade level Arabic description of my life story and my business with RAM. When I finished, she replied in perfect English, “There is a RAM office that handles lost baggage. Turn around, go straight, and you will find it next to the gendarmes.”

Low and behold, it was exactly where she said it would be. The gendarmes there waved me through (they obviously hadn’t heard from their buddy at the door what a threat to national security I was), and I found a guy sitting by himself in his empty office. There was a laptop computer in front of him. I was interrupting what appeared to be the middle of a Netflix binge.

“Hi, I lost my baggage about three weeks ago and it was sent here. Someone called to ask me to pick it up. Here is my receipt.”

(Okay, fine, what I really said was probably more along the lines of: “Hello, my bag lost three weeks. Someone says here it is. Here it is, my receipt.”)

The guy looked up from Netflix slowly. I might have caught a glimmer of disdain in his eye. He accepted the receipt, and started turning pages in a book in front of him. Handwritten in the lines were dozens of lost bags and tons of numbers associated with them. After a few minutes of scanning, he located an empty bar and wrote some new numbers in it. He handed me my passport and turned un-paused his show. A few minutes of silence went by.

“Um, hey, so, can I get my bag?”

(Or, more accurately, “It is possible to take bag? Mine?”)

“Oh, yeah, well, we need to wait until these people are finished picking up their luggage,” he said, waving his hand to the window, where we could see maybe 10 or so individuals taking their bags from the conveyor belt.

“How long?”

“10 minutes…or 15 minutes, maybe.”

I proceeded to sit with this guy in his office while he watched Netflix (without offering to share!) The baggage pick-up area was totally clear. I alerted the man to the change.

“Oh…just a few more minutes.”

After a few more minutes than just a few more minutes, he paused his show and left. After a few more minutes, he came back.

“Come with me.”

I was led to a room. The door was opened. Inside, there was a scattering of unclaimed bags in no particular order. I hunted around for my little gray bag. And looked. And turned over bags. And couldn’t find it.

“My bag isn’t here.”

“Yes it is.”

I looked again. No little gray bag. I was genuinely beginning to think I would never see this bag again, when I noticed a small bag off to the side that was wrapped in plastic. We did not wrap our bag in plastic. It would make no sense that this was our bag. And yet it was.

“I found it!”

“Okay, come with me.”

I followed a second guy into a different office (adjoining to Officer Netflix’s) and he whipped out another book with handwritten logs. He checked the tag on my bag against some of his numbers. He asked for my passport. He examined everything with great care. He wrote some numbers down in a book, along with my name.

“Make sure the bag goes through the scanner on your way out.”

My bag—scanned for security in Austin, TX, three weeks prior—needed one more scan to make it out of Fes I complied. The machine had to be turned on just for me (there was no one else picking up luggage at this point). The three (?) women manning the computer scrolled through their Facebook minifeeds passionately as my little gray bag popped out of the other end.

I exited the airport. After three weeks, I finally had my bag. I called Mustapha. “Where are you? I’m finally out!”

“Do you have 200dh?” he asked.

“Yeah sure, why?”

“I need to pay a parking ticket. For parking with the taxis.”


We had a plan. Royal Air Maroc, however, had a different one.

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