RTC Correspondent JB of Capital One car rental fame, contributes this piece on lost luggage, he buys artwork that often cannot fit carry-on, so not comments from the “I never check bags” scolds. His story is both entertaining and extremely useful – we learn by what goes wrong as much as what goes right.
Recently the wife and I flew a United Award ticket from the US to Africa and back to South America.
I was on a South African airplane in Nairobi and I watched the ground crew wheel away 3 huge bins of luggage – not a good sign. I asked the flight attendant to check with the captain and confirm our bags were onboard – she did not get back to me and wouldn’t make eye contact the rest of the flight.
I wish I had pressed it more.
I had a bad feeling there was going to be a lot of missing luggage and angry people at the baggage carousel, so when I landed in Johannesburg, I located the lost baggage counter and kept an eye on the South African airways baggage helpers. They are the ones that grab bags and passengers that have to make flight connections (and our flight was 90 minutes late). A paltry few bags came out on the carousel and over half the plane was waiting for bags when the baggage carousel stopped. I made a run for the lost baggage desk. Within 60 seconds there were over 50 people in line behind me, and by people I mean irate mob. A few people tried to cut in line and the mob was yelling so loud, I had trouble hearing the agent 3 feet away from me. He gave me a lost baggage locator number and said he had no update on my baggage. My Americanized customer service conditioning was still in place so I felt some comfort that he would be handling things.
- No reimbursement until after 24 hours without my baggage! What?
- They would deliver it.
- I could check on the internet and/or call in for updates
- The baggage would likely be put on the earliest flight from Nairobi to Joburg which was a Kenyan Air flight.
I went home and called the next morning when I saw there was no update on the online system. The agent said the bags were not tagged in Nairobi “because there were so many” so there was no way to know what flight it was on. What? I realized then that the level of customer service was “you should be grateful if you see your bag again.” They gave me a direct line to baggage services and I started calling it at 2pm and called maybe 35 times that day and night. No answer.
I checked all flights from Nairobi to Joburg for that day and saw South African only flew 1 daily. I was now in “trust no-one/don’t take no for an answer” mode so I figured the baggage would come in on SAA’s flight and would maybe be sorted through tomorrow. I had materials for a business meeting the next day so I resigned myself to spending the evening at the airport and got in the car.
The next mistake was not bringing my passport.
I arrived at the airport and was directed to a security area where they theoretically would let me go in to baggage claim and get my bag. I had my baggage claim ticket but no passport (they don’t take any other form of I.D). South African airline’s baggage service is located inside the secured international area so I went up to the ticketing area to see if they had another number for baggage services. A ticket agent there suggested I go to the domestic side baggage service desk which is not in a secured area. After talking to two people at domestic baggage (who tried to give me the same baggage desk number I had been calling all day) I almost gave up. They almost had me convinced that it was not possible for a SAA employee to bring me my bag. Something like “they would be accused of stealing and lose their job.” Very moving stuff. But then I thought, didn’t they say they were going to deliver it to me? I dug in my heals and told him that I was not leaving without my bag and wanted to talk to his supervisor. Finally, one of them took some initiative (when he saw that I was not going away) and called a supervisor on his cell phone in international baggage services.
This was the guy. He tried to tell me that the bags hadn’t arrived – I said the plane landed 20 minutes ago and they would be on the carousel in 10 minutes at the max. He said it would take 2.5 hours to sort them- I said I am sure it would but it would take him 5 minutes to pull mine from the carousel and walk it out to me. Actually, what I said was, “You know how you are going to deliver it to my hotel an hour from the airport? How about you just deliver it to me in the lobby of the airport instead. Something clicked for him and he said he wouldn’t make a promises – and my bag might not be on the plane anyway. He said he would call me in an hour. He called me in 10 minutes and I had my bag.
- If you see your bags pulling away from the plane – get into it. Ask to see the Captain, get the other passengers into it.
- Pack an extra set of clothes in the carry-on.
- Bring your passport when you go to the airport.
- If you think your bag is arriving at the airport – be there in person.
- Don’t be an asshole but don’t take no.