There’s no feeling quite like watching the baggage carousel stop and realizing your bag hasn’t come down. It’s like watching grade school let out for the day and your kid doesn’t come out the door. Well, not exactly. You don’t think your kid was diverted to Cleveland. And your kid probably doesn’t have your nice camera in her stomach.

I write this to praise the people at the lost baggage counter at the airport, because they have the second worst job in the terminal, right behind the guy who unloads the baggage for wild-game-hunting dentists. No one ever comes up and says “bags arrived, first down the chute! Thanks! Here’s a cookie.”

Everyone who comes to the counter is tired, has a crick in their back, has eaten nothing but seven peanuts in the last four hours, and is facing a day of wearing the same underwear and brushing their teeth with their finger. The lost-baggage people represent the airline, so of course you can’t help but hold them PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE.

But it wasn’t their fault. It’s not as if they flew to Seattle, yanked the bag off the plane, then flew back and tried to keep a straight face when people whined. But you think if I glower a little, they might pass it along. Next job review: So, how are people reacting to their luggage vanishing? Poorly, sir. They’re quite unhappy. You don’t say. Tell me more. Top brass has to hear about this.

The nice lady behind the counter apologized on behalf of the entire airline, then entered some numbers on a keyboard so old it sounded like she was breaking domino tiles with a hammer when she typed.

“Sir it shows that the luggage is on the plane. It has not yet been unloaded.”

Well. False alarm, then. Sure enough, the carousel clanked to life again and the buzzer sounded. (The buzzer tells people that luggage is coming down, in case they misunderstand the sight of luggage coming down.) Two bags came down the chute and slumped into the carousel like bodies tipped into a hasty grave.

Neither was mine. These were moved to the row of unclaimed bags, which lined the wall in a forlorn parade that made you think of all the times in gym class you weren’t chosen by any team.

What was their story? Have you ever left the airport thinking, “wonder if I had any luggage. Well, time will tell.”

Back to Lost Baggage.

“It did not show up?” said the clerk. It did not. Unless it’s one of those Transformer bags that turns itself into a box marked SALMON. She checked again, confused. The computer said the bag was still on the plane. What was your flight again?

And here we discovered the problem. The bag was on a different flight, due to arrive in five hours. Er. Why did that happen? It’s not as if my luggage said, “I think we need some time apart” this morning.

Here another fellow chimed in, and said it was done to “balance the plane.” I may have these details wrong, because I was hearing that high whine of fury in my ears, but as I recall they told me this: Sometimes the tower looks at a plane and says it’s unbalanced, and they have to take off some bags.

Really? They see sparks on the runway because the left wing is scraping the pavement? Are you kidding me? He looked at the computer, and said it looks like they took off 10 bags.

Ding. Ding. I remembered before we took off an announcement from the pilot: We were waiting for 10 bags to be added. My pilot wasn’t telling the truth? If there’s anyone left in America we trust, it’s pilots. This shatters everything. But it makes sense: if the pilot had said, “Mmmrrr, ladies and gentlemen, we’re, uh, waiting on a tender who, uh, is going to reposition some cargo to address a weight-type situation, so sit tight and we’ll have you on your way as soon as possible,” it would have been truthful. If you say, “some of your bags are being taken off. Sorry, our bad; no, we won’t tell you which ones” people would be furious. That’s it. I’ve had it. I’m going to the lavatory to disable the smoke detector.

They bade me to visit wheresmyluggage.com. GOOD QUESTION, you think. At 1 a.m., the site said my bag had arrived and been handed off to a driver, and he’d deliver it soon. Here, track your driver on this map! The map had him about six blocks from a Chick-fil-A. He never moved. Update: Your bag will be delivered by 4:30 a.m. Check the map: hasn’t moved. Chew faster, pal. The site had an option to e-mail the driver, and I sent him a note wondering if he could make it by 2. No reply. Mayo on his fingers probably kept him from hitting SEND. At 2 a.m., I went with the Deliver Tomorrow option, which required me to waive any legal rights to sue them for damage or “pilfering.”

Let me get this right: You took my property, misdirected it, handed it to a third party who may or may not have spent the wee hours masticating waffle fries by the bucket, and now it’s up to me to absolve you should someone rip it open and take out the camera. Right.

I accepted the terms, because I didn’t want a phone call at 4:30 a.m., and I didn’t want the bag sitting outside the house all night on the steps.

Sunday morn, go out for the paper. Suitcase. There. All night.

But it wasn’t anyone’s fault. They were just doing their job. So if it happens to you, remember. Be nice. Yelling gets you nowhere, and being civil might get you a coupon for 2,500 miles. That’s what they gave me.

The offer expired last March, but it’s the thought that counts.