It wasn't until I put my suitcase on the front veranda - whew, home, at last - that I realised I had made one of the most awful mistakes you can make when flying. Apart from missing your flight, what could be more ghastly and inconvenient - to all concerned - than arriving home with ... the wrong suitcase?
Yet, after years of carefully checking my battered old black case, festooned with ribbons and labels to mark it out from all the other boring black bags twirling around the carousel, I had done just that. But it wasn't with my old faithful black bag. This was a nearly brand-new bright orange suitcase, of such a lurid hue I assumed no one else would have one - same colour, size and brand - from the very same flight. How wrong, how thick could I be?
There was no excuse for my failure to check the labels when I swung the bag on to my trolley in Auckland Airport's baggage area and signed the form saying I had packed it. True, it was at the arse-end of a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Melbourne (delayed by three hours), then on to Auckland. True, I had had virtually no sleep overnight during the long haul because of the plight of a seriously ill elderly woman in a neighbouring seat.
But there it was: I was finally home, practically brain-dead, with swollen ankles and an orange suitcase I was about to haul inside when I noticed it had a slightly different lock.
Whaat? Then I spotted the label - and someone else's name.
Panic. Rang the airport, who directed me to the bag services people.
I'd only started to explain when he said: "The orange suitcase. Yep. You'll have to come back to the airport."
So I had to suck it up and head back out, with that bloody wrong bag, my passport, keys to my case and my luggage receipt. Just like checking in - or out - all over again.
At the bag services area (around the back of the airport), I rang the bell and a voice on the intercom said: "Orange bag?"
He took it away, along with my passport and keys so Customs could go through my case. That took some time. The coriander seeds in the Arabian spice set caused some alarm.
Then the nice bag services man wheeled my suitcase out. It was exactly the same brand, colour and size. It even seemed to have the same scuff marks.
"It happens all the time," he said jovially.
"One in five bags at Auckland Airport get picked up by the wrong person."
Really? I pray it will never happen to me again.
I will "unique-ise" my bright orange bag with bells and whistles if I have to. I will always check to make sure my name is on the label when I grab it from the carousel.
Then I will check it again.
And I hope you do too, no matter what colour your case is.