Let me tell you the twisted tale of Kavitha Rajagopal, Megabus and the missing suitcase. A saga that, she was flabbergasted to find out Friday morning, has a somewhat happy ending.
Rajagopal’s dark brown bag has been missing more than two weeks. Her parents gave her the Tumi suitcase almost a year ago when she graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s of business administration. Her new job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in her hometown of Dallas carried the prospect of regular business travel.
You can see her excitedly opening the wrapped suitcase in the photo with this story. So the bag itself carried sentimental value. On her recent trip to Houston for a friend’s wedding, it also carried diamond earrings, a cherished gift from her grandfather that she wore almost every day. She forgot to take them out of the suitcase before boarding Megabus, the no-frills, low-cost bus line, on a $60-round-trip fare March 23. And, oh, yes, she had packed two salwars, delicate garments native to India.
The wedding involved others of Indian descent, and so she took the colorful clothing, along with Indian-style jewelry and shoes, makeup and some everyday wear. Her estimate of the total value of the suitcase and its contents: about $2,000. Note here that Megabus’ “luggage allowance” policy on its website says its “maximum liability” for loss or damage to luggage is $250, and this only “in the event of negligence on the part of megabus.com.”
Ah, negligence. A term only a lawyer could love.
Anyway, Rajagopal decided that night to have the bag stored in the luggage compartment in the bus’s belly, rather than somehow stowing it at her seat. Megabus recommends, by the way, that carry-ons be “no larger than a briefcase.”
Megabus’ policy is that passengers wait to disembark until all luggage has been laid out alongside the bus, something the company says is done for the safety of customers and company workers because the luggage bay is right next to the exit door. In this case, that meant the bags were arrayed in a dark parking lot in downtown Houston at about 10:15 p.m. And Rajagopal was among the last off the bus.
What she found waiting was a black Tumi bag. Not her similar brown one. And remember, unlike with the airlines (and Amtrak and Greyhound for that matter), suitcases on Megabus trips have no identifying tag from the bus company. Meaning, the owner of this black bag at that point was a phantom. He still is, sort of.
She carried the unclaimed suitcase to Megabus’ sole attendant at the lot, who took it from her, Rajagopal says, and locked it inside the trailer that serves as Megabus’ facility in Houston. He gave her his cell number, and said he would text her if her bag was brought back.
She returned to the Megabus Houston stop about noon the next day, the Friday before the wedding. Nobody had shown up with her luggage, she was told, a report that would fall into dispute later.
What followed, a series of texts and calls to that Megabus worker and then to the company’s customer service department in New Jersey, has a comically sad quality to it. Employees told her there was no way to assign a case number to her claim of missing luggage. And while the Houston parking lot worker was patient with her (at first), no one had any answers or, she says, seemingly any real concern. A group email from Megabus to the passengers on that Dallas-to-Houston drive yielded nothing.
Megabus’ “responses to my queries were passive-aggressive at best,” she wrote in an email to the American-Statesman.
Meanwhile, Rajagopal was scrambling to get what she needed for the wedding, including borrowing Indian clothing from her boyfriend’s sister, who happened to be about her size, and getting shoes and other essentials. Saturday, she was told by Megabus that her luggage had been “found,” and she started to go fetch it. Then another call: No, the luggage would be returned by the mystery passenger later that day.
She was told that the other passenger (by now supposedly back in Dallas) had refused to return the bag via Megabus, saying he would only bring it in personally to assure getting his suitcase in return. Somehow, she was told, the man’s name and other contact information wasn’t collected at this point. But Megabus officials later told me they do have his email address and thus, presumably, his name from ticket records.
Then, on April 3, Rajagopal was told that the man in possession of her suitcase had in fact come back to the Houston bus stop on March 24 — the same day she went there to check — declared the other bag not his, and left again with hers as a hostage. Which would mean, apparently, that a third passenger and a third piece of luggage is somehow involved. The plot thickened.
Rajagopal was told that the most she could recover would be that $250, and not even that if another passenger took her bag. Negligence on Megabus’ part apparently doesn’t extend to overseeing who grabs which suitcase. And, to be fair, this is true at most American airports. The only thing keeping us all from constantly losing our luggage at carousels is human decency, which apparently still exists.
Megabus’ position, I was told at first, is that Rajagopal and the other passenger have each other’s bags, and the company has no black suitcase. Rajagopal, informed of this, was incensed. No way, she said; she walked away that night empty-handed.
Her graduation gift, and the traditional garb within in, are still at large. Perhaps you should be on the lookout for a man of non-Indian heritage (based on what Megabus has told her) wearing flowing silk.
Rajagopal has filed a theft report with the Houston police. You might recall that that law enforcement agency recently conducted, and successfully completed, a dragnet for Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey. Police Chief Art Acevedo and his detectives might have a special talent for ferreting out fabric.
Megabus gave me an official statement Thursday from corporate affairs director Sean Hughes: “Megabus.com has launched an extensive search for all of the parties’ lost luggage,” going on to apologize to her and, seemingly, our mystery passenger. And, at least for 16 hours or so, that seemed to be it.
Then, on Friday morning, Rajagopal’s phone rang.
“Their customer service office called me just now,” she told me, sounding a bit gobsmacked about the turn of events, “and they said they were going to send me a reimbursement check for $2,000. I thought initially they were talking about the $250, but no, the whole thing. This is probably the best outcome I could have hoped for.”
She said they didn’t ask her to fill out a form or anything, just to give them her address, and to expect the money in two weeks. There was no mention, by the way, of a continued search for her suitcase.