Is there any good advice to help my sister recover her carry-on bag?
December 24, 2004 6:11 AM   Subscribe

My sister had the worst travel experience the other day, resulting in an airline losing her carry-on bag. Her carry-on! She's been playing mad phone-tag with ambivalent airline personnel, but I'm wondering if anyone has any experience or advice that would help her. [mi, natch]

She paid a small fortune to get to New York at the last minute for our grandmother's funeral. Her flight back home was three legs, and before she hopped onto the 30-seater from Indianapolis to Chicago-Midway, the passengers were told that the overhead compartments were too small for their bags, and that they'd need to put them on a handy little cart, which was then packed into the cargo hold. She got off the plane in Chicago, headed over to the cart with everyone else to get her bag, and it was nowhere to be seen.

It might be too much to assume that it wasn't stolen, but the airline seemed to think that wasn't the case. They searched the cargo hold, shrugged, and told her to check with baggage claim, since that's where lost baggage ended up. She went there and was hassled because, since it wasn't actually a checked bag, there was no proof she'd ever brought a bag with her at all. They eventually believed her, and told her to just "give them time" to find it. They also told her that they were not responsible for the lost items because it wasn't a checked bag.

Her boarding pass for the final leg of her flight was in the bag, and the rest of her story (I'd need about 800 more paragraphs to tell you, and I've rambled on enough) was possibly the very worst story of airline and airport personnel incompetence that it just makes me sick to think about. The poor thing was having a hard enough time, having forked over two mortgage payments to be there, and with the sad business of saying goodbye to our wonderful matriarch. I've told her to write down every detail of every phone conversation, and to make an itemized list of everything in the bag, but does anyone else have any advice?
posted by kittyb to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Response by poster: Whoa, lbergstr is not my sister. 'Tis the season for lost luggage, I suppose. This isn't a double-post, is it? My sister's bag was her carry-on! Carry-on! Grah! It boggles my mind.
posted by kittyb at 6:14 AM on December 24, 2004

Every time I've gotten that "overhead bins are full" thing the airline would give me a little receipt for the checked bag. That's on American.

Please tell me she had her name and number on it.

Hope it might just be a passenger picked up the wrong bag and it will eventually turn up.

You need to tell us the airline! And she should start writing letters complaining to the airline. When she talks to people get a name or ID number. She should be direct but not rude.

My condolences on the loss of your grandmother.
posted by birdherder at 6:21 AM on December 24, 2004

There's a great database at filled with customer complaints and updates on how they were resolved (if at all). If it doesn't help, at least it's good for sympathy.

They did screw up, by the way, by not giving her a tag and receipt for the carry-on bag they took away. (what birdherder said.)

They also told her that they were not responsible for the lost items because it wasn't a checked bag.

I'm not sure that this wasn't technically a "checked bag." Anytime you hand your luggage over to the airline with the intent of redeeming it later, it seems pretty checked to me. On the smaller prop planes, your checked luggage is sometimes waiting for you in a little cart as you get off the plane.

Seems like they broke a lot of normal protocol in how they handled the luggage. I'm sure that your sister has put in the requisite hours on the phone with the customer service people. I'd only say keep trying that route with the objective of learning "What does your airline usually do in situations like these, given the size of the bag and type of plane?" Then try to extract an admission that they weren't following proper procedure.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:26 AM on December 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, birdherder and Saucy Intruder. The bag was labelled with her husband's name and phone number, and she left every phone number she could think of with the baggage claim people. As inconvenient (understatement) as it was for her to lose her boarding pass with it, I thought that might help identify it also.

They didn't give her any kind of receipt. This was a matter of everyone standing on the tarmac and putting their bags onto the cart, and watching the contents being rolled over to the plane and loaded. I really hope it was just a mistake, and that whoever stole it doesn't want her eyeglasses, black clothes, and $60 worth of month-old Clinique cosmetics. Sigh.
posted by kittyb at 6:28 AM on December 24, 2004

Not sure if it applies in the US, but I know in the EU that the airline is automatically liable up to about $1200 (or 1000 Special Drawing Rights) for carry on baggage?
posted by wackybrit at 7:10 AM on December 24, 2004


I had an equally complicated and exasperating story that concluded with a double charge by the airline. At several different levels both over the phone and in person at the airport, I just got shrugs and "Sorry that is tough but I can't help you."

My mother followed up at her end (in California) and ultimately not only did I get reimbursed but she got money as well-- aggravation money we decided to call it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:23 AM on December 24, 2004

This sounds just terrible. In my experience airline lost luggage services are like many other airline services these days, i.e. financed as minimally as possible, and of poor quality. I would therefore second the 'persevere' suggestion. You want to try to get the case 'escalated,' i.e. so it becomes a bad problem rather than just a problem. There are various ways to do this - ask to speak to a manager or a supervisor, for instance. Give them a good sob story. What you want to do is get a more skilled rep personally assigned to your case, or at least get their contact number. This will be useful as it's an unusual case and will save your sister having to explain it afresh each time.

From my experiences a lot of these 'emergency' centres are just basically call centres, staffed by cubicle drones who don't really know what is going on (I had an equally bad experience with Visa recently after losing my wallet/cards). Getting to talk with someone who knows what is going on can really help; but those people are usually paid more, and are not generally accessible.

On the glass-half-full side, the bag may have been found and is on its way to being delivered, but the reps don't know this. You'd think all these workers/services are somehow connected electronically, so that when one does something the others know what has happened, but they're not.

Anyway, good luck!
posted by carter at 7:49 AM on December 24, 2004

My friend just got back from Atlanta for Porsche training and found out a cargo vehicle ran over his suitcase (well, my suitcase that he borrowed) and destroyed the entire contents - including the diecast model of some new car he was given as an award.

I think he's given up on being reimbursed for the model, since its limited edition and can't be replaced anyways, but for some reason American is insisting and repairing the suitcase. Its a $50 American Tourister and they want to ship it somewhere to get fixed...

No wonder the airlines lose so much money.
posted by jeffmik at 8:48 AM on December 24, 2004

A coworker of mine once checked in a laptop on a domestic flight. Of course, the laptop never appeared at our destination. A few days later he received a call from a different airport. They had an empty laptop case with no tags except a ficticious baggage tag. Luckily, there was a magazine inside with my friends name and address printed on the label. The baggage tag on the laptop case had been made at the original airport and, as I understand it, was not associated with a passenger. Basically an airline employee stole the laptop but sent the bag to a random airport to avoid suspicion.

In this case the airline made it a very big deal and it was referred to the FBI to investigate. I'm not sure if this was because it was an obvious theft or because the airline employee sent the bag on a flight without a passenger. This was back in 1999 when security was not as tight. If your sister's bag had to go from A to B, and it is in neither place, then it had to go somewhere.

The upshot for my friend was that the airline gave him $3500 in flight vouchers (which cost them nothing) for a $600 laptop. Keep pressing the airline. Also, most airlines have be bereavement fares for people who have to travel at the last minute for a funeral like your sister. They may refund up to half the ticket price (or more) with a death certificate.
posted by Yorrick at 9:45 AM on December 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the stories and advice, everyone. She didn't get very far during her discussions with ticketing for a bereavement fare; she was told that the best they could do was something like $1800. She found an Internet fare for about half of that and grabbed it before the prices could increase further.

On the upside, we had a really lovely time in New York, all things considered. Our extended family is amazing. I'm sending her an extra Chrannukah (It's Christmas! It's Hannukah!) present so she can replace a few things, but I'm holding on to hope that things might work out alright.
posted by kittyb at 11:06 AM on December 24, 2004

The one time an airline lost my bag, I got a phone call about a month later that they had it, and wished to know a good time to deliver it (they needed a signature). They told me all the tags had been ripped off, so it was a very good thing I had put my name and address on the inside.

I hadn't pestered them, since I just assumed it was gone forever (it got lost at JFK during a hellacious summer storm that shut down the entire east coast).

So, it may yet turn up. But pestering them politely is probably still a very good idea.

My condolences.
posted by QIbHom at 9:51 PM on December 25, 2004

Response by poster: Just in case anyone happens along this thread and wonders whether or not there was a happy ending... I just talked to my sister, and miraculously, her bag showed up at the Minneapolis airport last night. ATA couldn't explain how, but we've learned to not question Chrannukah miracles, even if they are late. Hooray!
posted by kittyb at 5:58 PM on January 4, 2005

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