Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Time for another air-travel-debacle rant!

I have notoriously bad luck with air travel. This afternoon when I was about to board a plane and heard the overhead announcement that there was no more room in the overhead bins, I knew how checking my bag at the gate would turn out. I had seen those dirty sock for the last time. I took a quick mental inventory of what was in the bag: Dirty socks and underwear, t-shirts, a couple pair of jeans and tops I had just purchased, and two new bras. Oh dammit, those were expensive bras. This is going to suck. There was nothing irreplaceable, all of the important things like credit cards and gourmet popcorn were in my handbag under the seat. Still, it sucks to have your luggage go rogue from the airline.

The line of unfortunate souls was long as the gate attendants tagged everyone's luggage and wrestled it away from them. When it was my turn, the attendant asked, "What's your final destination?" "Washington, DC" and she wrote DCA on the luggage tag and handed me the baggage claim number while the other attendant scanned my boarding pass. My suitcase and I were soon parted en route to a layover in Philadelphia.

When I boarded the plane, my feeling of impending doom was replaced by annoyance as I counted the number of empty spaces in the overhead bins. There were five alone in first class (God forbid!) and then one, two, three, four on my way to my seat and another one right above my head. They must have really wanted that bag because there was plenty of room for it but they stole it fair and square. This is clearly not a glass-half-empty airline because that overheard compartment was not even close to being full.

I arrived at Philadelphia airport prepared for my two & a half hour layover, but I noticed an earlier flight to DCA within 55 minutes. I became convinced that my luggage would end up on that flight and then sit in the baggage claim area in DC for 90 minutes before I even arrived. I tried to get myself on the earlier flight along with the bag. I walked to the opposite end of the terminal to talk to a customer service agent who told me that there was room on the flight, but it would cost me $50 to switch and I would be separated from my checked luggage. "Actually," I told him, "My luggage is the reason I want the earlier flight. I was already separated from my luggage and it will probably beat me home." He told me that was unlikely because the person who marked the luggage at the gate would have noted my flight number on the tag. I assured him that she did not even look at my boarding pass, nor did she clarify which of the three DC-area airports I was flying into. She asked where I was going, wrote DCA, and sent me on my way. He and I then had a ridiculous conversation.

Well, she would have put your flight number from your boarding pass to put on the tag when she checked your bag at the gate.

I assure you, she did not.

Well then she had the master list and got your flight number from there.

No, she had no list.

Well... regardless... if you want to book the earlier flight, you'll need to pay the difference, which is $50 and you will be separated from your luggage.

Actually, I'm more concerned about losing my luggage than getting home early, so if you can assure me that my luggage will be on the later flight...

OH, NO NO NO! We do not make that guarantee.

But you just said...

We can not make that guarantee. Too many things could happen, especially when they are checked at the gate.

Okay, then can you assure me that there will be security at the baggage claim so that if it does arrive early, it will be flagged and not put on the carousel for someone else to take it?

OH, NO NO NO! We can not guarantee against theft. I don't know what the security is like at that particular airport, and it can happen that someone picks up the wrong bag.

So really, their slogan should be, "Give us your bag and hope for the best!" Brilliant.

I kept my original flight (and my $50) and no surprise, when I arrived my bag was not on the carousel. I went to the baggage claim office and she scanned my ticket claim, couldn't find anything, asked me where I came from and told me that more bags were coming in from my flight and she sent me back out to the carousel from whence I came. After watching other peoples' luggage take a few laps, I walked back into the office and another attendant was at the counter so I had to repeat my ordeal. She tried to send me back out to the carousel again but I assured her that my bag was not there. She had a dozen unclaimed bags - mine was not among them. She then asked for my address and phone number and handed me a receipt and said, "Your bag will be delivered to you." What? When? "Tomorrow." Okay, so where is it? "It has not been scanned yet so there is no tracking information." So basically, they told me they had no idea where it is. They put these bar codes on the bags, but then don't scan them unless they end up somewhere unclaimed. Not only is it a bad system, but everyone I talked to acted like I was a huge inconvenience to them. My inquiries about luggage that they forced me to hand over to them and they proceeded to lose - was a huge inconvenience to them. No one apologized, no one did anything to try to explain, they all told me to wait longer and sent me on my way. So, I looked at the receipt she handed me:

Dear Customer,
We sincerely apologize for the delay of your baggage. (Finally! An apology!)

...Most delayed bags are recovered in less than 24 hours, so please remain confident that you will be reunited with your property very soon. Please know that our Baggage Service Specialists are doing everything possible to reduce the amount of time you are inconvenienced. (No, they're really not.)

...If the delay exceeds 24 hours, the tracing of your property will be overseen by a dedicated team of specialists from our Central Baggage Resolution Office. You can expect periodic updates from a Specialist during the tracing process.

I was sent on my way to wait at home for my luggage. I was not happy, but I did stop by the arrivals screen before I left and saw that the next flight from Philly was due in 30 minutes. So, I headed to the airport T.G.I. Fridays and amused myself until the next flight came in and then headed back down to the baggage carousel. Sure enough, there was my little red bag. Reunited and it feels so good! It did not arrive before me as I expected, it arrived after me. I checked the tag since the customer service representative was so insistent that a flight number had to have been written on there. It had a flight number, but it wasn't mine. I googled the flight. It was from DTW to CLT: Detroit to Charlotte, two cities I did not travel through or even near.

I'm really annoyed by the whole ordeal. I understand that these things happen because in all honesty, they usually happen to me. But never with this much disregard and condescension. From the "full overhead compartments" that were not full, to the baggage claim representatives who didn't give a flying frank what happened to my bags, I was really disgusted with the whole experience. Under normal circumstances, I would have turned around after claiming my bag from the carousel and letting the attendants know to cancel the delayed baggage claim, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. The whole thing was so screwed up, that I'm actually curious if I will ever hear from anyone at the airline again in regard to my missing bag. Apparently the bar code was never scanned, so they have no record of it at all. They don't know if I claimed it, or if someone else took off with it. I'm very curious to find out if they will follow up at all. I am guessing that they're not going to get in touch with me about my luggage, they will wait for me to contact them. Well, I'm done contacting them and going through their runaround. I am confounded by the lack of concern and am curious if I hadn't claimed the bag, if my dirty socks and underwear would have taken another vacation through Michigan and North Carolina.

I wish I was one of those people who could stand at the counter and make a scene until someone takes action or gives them a free flight or hands over the contents of the cash register just to get them to stop complaining and go away. I don't have it in me to do that. When I listen to someone who does not give a crap about the problems that their company has created for me, it's not in my nature to scream at them until they pretend to care. But it's unfortunate that without raising your voice, you're treated like a doormat after spending a lot of money to travel. The people in the baggage claim in front of me were getting the runaround and told to go to the Air Canada terminal. When they asked where that was, the person behind the desk didn't know and told them to go look on the map. Is it too much to expect that they might have a map of their own behind the desk for situations like this? Or perhaps some sort of world wide web of information that they could use to ask Google? Perhaps I ask too much. I should just be happy that for the low price of $200 for a one-way ticket, I was able to fly halfway across the country and keep my belongings as well.

1 comment:

Paul said...

There's got to be a way to bottle up your bad mojo and send it to, I don't know, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or maybe Michael Bolton. Your latest episode reminds me of this little saga. It also gives me an idea for a story, particularly this part: "I'm actually curious if I will ever hear from anyone at the airline again in regard to my missing bag."