28 December 2008

The Saga of my Bag - a Study in Frustration

Since this is the holiday season and we all need some frivolity here is a great story.
This is a post I once wanted to write but never got around to it.
So here it is in all its glory - the story of my globetrotting bag and some wise lessons learned.

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has been relatively quiet over the last few weeks. Just pressure of work rather than subject material. There certainly has been enough happenings of late.

But the one thing that has occupied my waking hours has been the strange case of the lost bag. My bag. This will read like a Shaggy Dog story. But profit from it because you will learn and be able to minimize the disruption to your life.

The bag’s journey

I was on a Round the World itinerary that took in Europe, CIS, Middle East, Asia and then returned home. I have actually flown many times on a RTW using all 3 of the major alliances. They represent tremendous value and are to be highly recommended. This time it was a Travel Agency issued BA RTW Business Class ticket.

Its important to know I am not making this difficult. I have a bag that does meet the needs of the passenger cabin requirements and have taken it with me on many occasions. However in Moscow on my way to Munich via Helsinki on Finnair (AY)– my life became unstuck. Despite my entreaties to the contrary some old holdover from the Stalinist era had decided that I wasn’t going to take the bag on the plane – business class or no. So tagged with an SU baggage number I waved good bye with that sinking feeling when you know Mr Murphy was going to kidnap my bag. It should have been ok. Finnair should be a fine airline, relatively small and accomplished. Their Hub in Helsinki is compact and efficient while however creaking at the seams with expansion. Finnair is profitable at the moment. A 2 hour layover should have been enough time (well within designated MCT parameters) for them to safely transfer my bag.

On arrival at Munich sadly no bag. So joining 9 of my fellow passengers – I waited for 30 minutes to file a lost bag report. Finnair has outsourced its bags like many airlines. Swissport handles AY in Munich. Just my luck to get another ultra rule following German lady. The sin of omission rather than that of commission has always been an airline artform. In this case the usual “call this number and we will let you know.” Said the passenger “but I am leaving tomorrow morning to LHR – what are the chances …” There was no volunteering of information. Only after insisting she tell me the schedule of possible flights from HEL and then realizing that I had only 1 chance to be reunited with my bag – I set off into the sunset with only my laptop bag.

It was still possible to contact HEL so I sat on the phone … and waited for 2 x 45 mins. (They shut me off the first time). Fortunately I had Skype so that made the cost bearable (1 cent vs $1 a minute. Only to be told that the baggage people would not be able to help me – they (yet another outsource) only handled HEL destined bags. Oh yes and that famous telephone number I was supposed to call? Well it was a voicemail box telling me that they were all busy helping other (presumably lost souls) passengers and they could not come to the phone but I could leave a message. Beep – we are sorry to inform you that this mailbox is full Goodbye!

The next morning (I do so love washing my underwear in the sink) I arrived at the airport to try and recover the bag. Swissport actually started to be a little nicer. The weekend crew were a lot more helpful. But still no bag and no sign thereof. However now I had some arming of good data and a plan. They even gave me a nice hoe bag with a T shirt (Finnair tastefully written on the left sleeve) and some toiletries. I could have done with it the night before.

So sadly I bid MUC goodbye and headed via BA to London. Suffice to say there was nothing better going on there. So this time I had to think about getting something better to wear. However 80 Euros will not replace your wardrobe especially if you are going for a business meeting in Dubai the next day. I managed to collect yet another lost bag kit from BA – this time the T shirt had no identifiable marks. BA is more careful. Perhaps that’s why they are more experienced. Having lost 1 million bags in 2006 they should be pretty good at this sort of thing by now.

Calculating that the best place for us to hook up – I sent the request to have my bag delivered to Singapore where I would be for 4 days. On arrival there 3 days later – I was saddened to learn that my file had been closed and STILL no sign of the bag. Plus Finnair in MUC had sent it to a non-existent station manager at Singapore. (Finnair had just closed their online station there. So technically there was no one available to receive the bag shouldit follow the rules and turn up magically. Arriving on Cathay from Dubai via Hing Kong the helpful people in SIN wanted to file a new report. So this time a CX listed “manual and therefore unofficial” report (even though CX had absolutely nothing to do with this) was duly filed. “as a courtesy”.

In order to comply with the Montreal Convention (see sidebar) you have to file your lost bag report within one week. So I duly send an email with all the prerequisite information to an address inside AY. Knowing full well the only reason to do this was to have a record of having met the conditions. (I was wrong – more on this later).

So sadly after successful meetings in Singapore over (still with my 80 Euros of replacement clothing and borrowed shoes) I left to return home. Stopping briefly at baggage handling to make the “unofficial report” into a full time formal “official” report, I now had a total of 4 tracking numbers. 2x AY, and 2 x CX. For the next leg – I flew JAL to Vancouver via Narita. At each stage I chased the bag to whomever could help me. By now the file had reached several pages.

On arrival back in Seattle I opened my email to find – surprise – actually a note from a REAL person in Helsinki who was willing to help me and was on the mission to find my bag. By now there are multiple parties looking out for the bag. Swissport in Munich, BA in London, Cathay Pacific via CATS in Singapore, AY Baggage central in Helsinki,BA in Seattle and I am sure there were others – the list of addresses who got the message was growing exponentially. I was beginning to think my bag could be come the Kevin Bacon of luggage And don’t forget 3 sets of bag tracers on the SITA worldtracer system.

Exactly one week later and 2 weeks after loosing the bag I returned to SEA from CPH to get a message from SQ Baggage in Singapore that they had dispatched the bag the day before via United and it should be in their baggage area. I raised out of customs over to United – my tracking numbers burned in my head and quetly asked the baggage person if the bag was there. “Well it says its here. But we cant reach you because there isn’t a US phone number in here. But lets see ifwe can find it. My heart literally pounding – I follow the baggage supervisor. Yes there it was. Festooned with baggage reports – it was actually all intact. The labels were all there and the tags. Nope no reason why they misconnected.

So now what did I learn and what information can I impart to you


Know your rights. Know the rules. Follow this motto below. Carry copies of everything especially receipts.and take pictures.

Remember - The bag that you hold arrives with you.

Rember the enemy’s motto. Innocent until the passenger proves the airline is guilty according to a set of rules that make no sense and are only known to the airlines and all of which carries the ultimate superior rule – The airline is always right.

1. Preparation
If you must check your bag then…. Inventory your bag! Almost no one knows that you can go to any IATA airline in the world and give a detailed inventory of the contents of your bag. If the airline accepts it then they are immediately liable for all the contents of the bag – not limited to Montreal Convention amount which is currently 1000 SDRs. (Special Drawing Rights – which is a common currency pegged to the dollar). For the
2. The day of travel
The airlines have a mechanism for identifying the type of bag. This is revised every few years but best to know EXACTLY what your bag looks like. Then the model type. For example my bag was an Ailrine rollerboard type – Type 28!.

3. Handing over your bag

4. Multiple bags

One important thing is to understand if you lost a single bag or multiple bags. So note down WHICH bag goes with WHICH bag tag. Keep copies of the documents. Take pictures of your tags and the bags if possible.

So you lost your bag – remember it was your fault!!!!This is the airlines attitude so you are automatically at fault - guilty. The airline is always teflon clean!

be prepared for the following process you will have to prove...

Step 1 – are you sure its lost? - It didnt come up on the belt so its lost DUH!

Step 2 – report it via The Lost Bag report. AND dont leave the airport until you have reported it, straight away even if you know its on another flight report it no matter what. This is the most frustrating part and time taken of the whole process. Keep the paper and keep calling the number they give you. Best advice - find out who is the local manager responsible for the bag at the airport where you arrived. This is often a contractor such as Swissport so also make sure you get an airline who carried you on the loop.

Step 3 – Know that there could be multiple parties involved. If for example you started your journey at a remote station and connected over a major hub to another remote destination then you could have up to 5 different entities if you changed airlines:

Entity 1 - The airport servicing company. For example Dnata at Dubai.
Entity 2 - the initial airline (who BTW is usually the responsible party under IATA rules but hit all of them don't rely on this).
Entity 3 - the baggage handler at the hub airport. For example this is an outsourced service for British Airways at LHR and LGW so watch out!
Entity 4 - the connecting carrier - if this is different from entity 2 - this will be important as you could arrive at a remote airport and the despatching airline might not have a presence in that airport.
Entity 5 - the Handling agent at the arriving airport - this is the person who acts on behalf of the airline you arrived in and to whom you have to go to file the bag report.

Note if you still don't have your bag before you go on to your next position - you need to keep track of all your flights as the responsible party will try and match your bag to your itinerary. If you are on a long trip - like I was - then better to be safe than sorry - either have them send the bag home or to a future point on your itinerary.

Step 4- Know what to do next – how to track. Many airlines have a tracking system which you can look at online - it is usually managed by SITA. However if its a LCC and not part of IATA then you are SOL!

The reconciliation process - make sure that when you get your bag - either collected by you or delivered by the airline's agent - then check the bag for damage. Usually the bag will have a load of tags on it that include the history. Often the initial bag tracker report is attached so people can see what is supposed to happen. However this is a flimsy piece of paper so the chances of it surviving is slim and none - but I have seen it happen. However MAKE SURE YOU FILE within 24 hours of receiving it if you have damage or loss. Do this at the airport if you collect it.

Don’t Give up. AND BE NOTICED

You have to kick and scream and stamp your foot to get noticed - otherwise the airline will never pay attention to you. Demand for example an overnight kit (Delta and BA have the best I have seen - though SQ's for business is not bad. Even Finnair has a nice one.

How to claim. Each airline is different but keep all receipts and claim for each case and event. IE if the airline doesnt deliver when it says it will then you can go back and claim more. Different rules apply for different delay times. However the airline usually doesn't pay attention after you have submitted one claim.

The Future

The airlines need to do a better job and in some cases they are (Lufthansa for one).
RFID probably holds the best for the future - if Walmart can do it for just about everything - then the airlines can do it for bags.



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