The Most Famous Reindeer of All

Visiting Santa Claus's lair

 while traveling in Finland was one of the highlights of my arctic trip but a refrigerator magnet just didn’t seem like a sufficient memoir for such an amazing stop.

I settled on buying a fur of one of Santa’s “former workers” when the opportunity presented itself. For $130, it turns out that one can purchase a full reindeer hide at the airport. That’s right; A beautiful arctic cuddly fur courtesy of the North Pole. 

I told myself that the skin I bought belonged to a reindeer who had died of old age or a peaceful sleigh accident. No one wants to be responsible for Rudolph’s demise. The fur was absolutely gorgeous,  but it was still an entire animal minus the inner parts and head, so it was a little awkward to carry. Reindeer fur is much thicker than cowhide. 

I knew transportation was going to be a problem since I had half a dozen economy flights coming up that only allowed a small bag that a reindeer couldn’t possibly fit into. I love cheap European flights, but there’s always the game being played of how many extras the discount airline can tack onto your bill. Luggage can often cost more than the actual flight. I travel very light. It saves me a ton of money using a bag that is classified as a “personal item” by most airlines. It’s small enough to fit under the seat, but to be honest, occasionally it pushes the boundaries of “small”. 

When we arrived at the international airline counter, the agent warned us that the gate personnel would likely be very strict on luggage regulations. Many airlines offer incentives to employees who shake down customers before they board. It’s last minute revenue for the airlines, but usually a nasty surprise for the passenger.  My partner and I had accumulated a few extra items while traveling, so rather than deal with an issue before boarding, we reorganized our bags so that one could easily fit under the seat and paid $80 to carry on the other. The fee was more than our ticket even though the bag was only a small backpack.

There was 2 “checkers” when we arrived at the gate. To avoid problems, I rolled up my fur in its duty free airport bag and slid it into my jacket I was carrying over my arm. It added  a bit of mass to my armload, but I carried it in on the opposite arm from the view of the agent and really shouldn’t have been an issue anyway. Purchases at the terminal are not considered luggage. No one questioned my luggage or jacket as I proceeded into the boarding area. 

However, one of the airport henchmen began harassing my girlfriend about her backpack. She explained that we had paid, but they still insisted that she put her luggage into the measuring slot. It fit, but that wasn’t good enough. They wanted us to pay more because it was “touching the sides” of their container. She’d either have to give them a credit card or she wouldn’t be able to board. It was airline extortion, plain and simple. To make it NOT touch the sides involved taking out a few articles of clothing. They were intent on embarrassing her into paying, so I stepped in. I grabbed a few pairs of my underwear out of her bag, held them up and told them that I’d rather buy new underwear than to pay them another cent. I dramatically tossed them into their trash and that shut them up. 

The ticket takers saw what had transpired and one of them. a tall blonde employee who looked like one of Hitler’s youth was eyeing me and sizing me up. I had already sat in my chair but I could see him talking to another employee and then glancing at me like he was hoping to find a reason to keep me from boarding. I had done nothing wrong, I had merely stopped the bullying of my girlfriend and although it might have created a little bit of a spectacle, I was well within my rights. 

“Fritz” waited until most of the passengers had boarded to come over and bully me. I was expecting him. “Does your bag fit into the personal item slot?”  he asked. I had already been through all of that entering the passenger area, but he was intent on showing off to the other employees. “This bag”? I asked as I tossed it into the air and caught it several times, making it clear that it weighed nothing. He insisted I take it over the slot and measure it again. It easily fit. “What about your jacket? Will it fit inside your suitcase?”

I reminded him that anyone had the right to take off their jacket and carry it on a plane. It’s clothing, not luggage. That’s not what he was going for though. He was certain that I was smuggling on another bag and wanted me to put my jacket on so he could prove himself right.  I pulled out my reindeer hide bag and skipped my jacket on. I put the shopping bag over my shoulder. “Happy?” I asked. 

His eyes were on my bag as he blocked the gate. I pulled out the reindeer hide and explained that I bought it at the airport and it was a purchase, not luggage. No, I’d have to put it in my bag or pay another $80 for a carry-on bag he insisted.  He was going to beat me down however he could, even if he was completely wrong. I’d either cave in or I’d be standing in the terminal while the flight left. 

Even when a customer is right, a Nazi crew member can still detain them and ruin the next connection. The airline will eventually put you another flight, but chances are, you’re going to lose time and money and the employee at best will receive a mild scolding. That’s why people just shut up and pay. 

I took the reindeer hide and wrapped it around my body. Then I removed the Union Jack scarf I was wearing and tied it around my waist over the hide, cinching it like a belt. I looked like a cross between Conan the Barbarian and something from a Jack London book.

He looked surprised. Even more so when I explained that the reindeer hide was part of my indigenous dress and I was allowed to wear it wherever I want as part of my national heritage and identity. Had he been to the Aleutian Islands? No? (I hadn’t either, but I might have family from there, you never know) Yeah, they wear reindeer skin don’t they? He knew there was nothing he could say or do. He begrudgingly moved aside and let me board the plane. Ironically enough, the plane was almost entirely empty. After all the dumb airline rules, it’s nice to get a win ever once in a while. 

As it turns out, reindeer really can fly!