My First Lost Luggage Incident
So, I got back from Germany on Sunday night. Along with a couple of other issues, this is a contender for second worst flight. (The worst flight involved an unscheduled layover at a Russian air base where the pilot managed to get the airplane stuck.) To be fair a lot of people had a much much worse time in LAX on Saturday when the customs system broke down and they were stuck on their airplanes for hours.
After a rather uneventful flight from Frankfurt to Dallas, and a relatively quick and painless (1/2-3/4 hour) trip through immigration and customs, I'd spent an hour chatting with people on my cell phone while at Dallas airport. The flight from Dallas to LA was full (not really a big deal), and the plane was a relatively old DC 80.
One of the last people to get on the plane, the passenger who ended up sitting next to me had brought food aboard (AA doesn't really serve food to the commoners on domestic flights) which clearly contained aromatic onions. Although there were no food disasters, the fragrance was quite persistent. (The guy was otherwise very polite and friendly.)
While we were taxiing the cockpit crew was continuously revving the engines, which, since the airplane was old was a bit omnious. Because of the loud engines, and the reving, and the onion vapors, the somewhat bumpy takeoff seemed to take an ominously long time. As a bonus, there was some sort of rumbling interference noise from the engines -- a loud wah-wah noise with a varying frequency of around 2 hertz. Somewhat similar to shaking your head slowly while standing next to a running lawnmower. Fortunately, the truly awful noise did abate a few minutes into the flight.
20 minutes or so into the flight at the tail end of the beverage service, one of the stewardesses spilled water on the book that I was reading. (Later in Los Angeles, I accidentally left the book on the plane - but that's my own fault.)
Fortunately, the rest of the flight went better. Of course, what I didn't know was that this initial awful half-hour had left a time-delayed surprise for me: Several carts of luggage didn't make it on to the plane. Naturally, mine was among those left behind. (Really, even this might not have been so bad if the AA personnel in the luggage retrieval areas was adequate. As it stands, they're clearly unprepared, and probably understaffed.)
For those of you who haven't partaken in the joy of 'delayed baggage', it goes something like this: after disembarking from the plane, you get to mill around the luggage belt futilely waiting for your bag. After the typical half hour or whatever, the belt stops, and a bunch of people are still standing there, waiting to see the luggage.
Eventually, having decided that something was indeed amiss, I went to the AA baggage office. Clearly, AA is having some pretty heavy baggage issues -- about 1/8 of the floor space in the LA baggage retrieval is cordoned off as a staging area for delayed baggage from other flights -- I say 100 bags on Sunday (when I landed) and roughly the same number on Wednesday when I finally got my bag. Another good indication that AA is having issues with baggage is that the line at the baggage area office had extended into the baggage claim area. This luggage area office is serviced by roughly 0.5 net employees (one possibly competent person, and one trainee there to keep her busy) and there is no process in place for handling bulk lost luggage. Moreover, the process for dealing with lost or delayed luggage apparently takes them 10 minutes per person.
While I was standing in line, a couple of AA employees apparently went to the belt to say something. Naturally, they didn't bother to check if anyone standing in the line was from the flight. So I only got the tail end of that stuff. I did manage to get the AA lost baggage hotline telephone number. (After my experience, I'd recommend calling them rather than waiting in line at the baggage office if you have a choice. The wait is shorter, and the operators seem to be more competent than the desk staff at the airport.)
Eventually, I got frustrated enough to just arrange for my ground transportation, and called the luggage hotline from home, where I reported the bag as missing or whatever, and got a magic six letter record locator. (Why AA insists on putting a six letter code on the thing when the luggage already has a six digit tag number baffles me, but clearly, if what they were doing was sensible...)
By Monday night, there was no change in status. The AA system still didn't have the foggiest notion of where my bag was.
Tuesday morning, at 6 am (when I get into the office) I checked on-line, and my bag had been found. This was a relief since I was starting to run low on pants and underwear. Apparently, the bag was to be picked up 7 at the airport, and delivered to me. Because my home is poorly situated for deliveries (a locked common door, and on a busy thuroughfare with limited parking), and I live very close to LAX, I was hoping to just pick my bag up at the airport when it came in, but when I called the hot-line they indicated that it had already been picked up. I ended up going home early in an attempt to get my bag, which was supposedly to be delivered within 6 hours of the pickup time, then I got a phone call indicating that it was to be delivered between 1 and 3, and when I called to inquire as it had not arrived by 4, I was told it would be delivered between 6 and 8. So, I basically spent all of Tuesday waiting for a delivery that did not arrive.
First thing Wednesday morning, I called the luggage hot-line to arrange for me to pick up the luggage somewhere, and manged to get things set up so that I could pick it up at the airport. Ostensibly, the delivery company would drop it off there by 9 am. I had a 10-11 appointment anyway, so I figured I'd just extend my absence from work to go pick up my bag.
I got to the airport at 11:30, and got in line at the service office at the baggage claim to retrieve my bag. I spent something like 25 minutes waiting while the 0.75 employees (there was a brief moment where a third body was there) managed to deal with roughly 2 customers. (For those of you that are counting, yes, that means I was first in line for 25 minutes.) The trainee who I ended up dealing with claimed that my bag had been delivered (She claimed at 7 am -- this last bit is on the line from incompetence to willfull stupidity.) I asked whether I could at least look through the luggage corral to see whether my bag was there, and since it was not there, I did not see it.
So, I called the hot line to find out where my bag was, and they assured me that (at least according to the delivery company) the package had been delivered back to LAX for me to pick up and was at the 'main baggage office' there. (The operator didn't know whether said office was the one by the baggage claim.) So, determined to get my bag, I went on a quest to find the information desk - since this is *exactly* the sort of question they should be able to answer. Did you know that there is no LAX information desk, or at least no information desk at the terminal that AA uses?
After 15 frustrated minutes, I ended up back at the baggage claim area, having exhausted possibility that the departures area employees were more competent, and managed to get the attention of a supervisor-type person to ask if there were any *other* areas that AA stored baggage at in the airport. After she answered in the negative, I explained that I had been assured by the personnel at the hotline that the bag was indeed at LAX etc. - whereupon she took my bag receipt, disappeared into the bowels of the airport for about 30 seconds, and returned with my bag.
Argh! This could have been easier - so much easier. If the bags had actually been put on the plane. If the AA people had communicated among themselves to indicate that I'd prefer to pick the bag up. If they had asked me where to deliver the bag. If the TSA didn't have the completely worthless and idiotic limitation of one carry on bag per person.
Alas, I have my bag, and, hopefully, I won't be flying again anytime soon. Current Mood: blart!