Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost Luggage

I have never personally had a problem with my luggage getting lost by an airline. Once, when I flew out to Los Angeles on business in 1994 or so, it nearly did. My traveling companion and I waited at the baggage conveyor and retrieved our luggage as it went around, and around, and around. In the end we had everything - except my main piece of luggage. We decided to look for help, and walked through baggage claim past several other stopped conveyors for other flights. About five conveyors down there was a single bag sitting unattended. Mine. We retrieved it and got out of there.

It used to happen all the time. One of my father's bags was lost when he was coming back from visiting his mother in California about thirty years ago. It was the bag containing, among other things, our ancient Brownie camera which he had used to take photos on his visit. All gone.

The past few times I have travelled I have made my own ID tags for my luggage, including my carry-on, with my face, name, address, and phone number. At Shannon airport in Ireland one of the staff asked me if I was a member of a crew - they have similar tags for their luggage. At Logan airport a security guard looked at my carry-on after it went though the scanner and asked who it belonged to. I guess the huge freaking tag wasn't explicit enough. (They needed to examine it because the scanner picked up "a large glass object" inside. I informed him that it wasn't glass, it was Waterford Crystal. Duty-free Waterford Crystal.)

On trips the past ten years or so I have been astonished by the complexity of luggage identification added to all checked bags, with numerous letter codes and barcodes. I don't know much about baggage handling systems, but I have heard that the mad mass of conveyor belts seen at the end of Toy Story 2 is a pretty accurate representation.

With the complexity and redundancy of these systems and the now-ubiquitous use of optical systems and computers to scan and track all bags, it seems absurd - even impossible - that a piece of luggage can get lost. Misdirected, yes. Stolen, yes. Had the tag fall off and dropped out of the system, yes.* But lost? Lost? Just follow the trail of scans and see where the last scan took place. Then work from there.

But a friend's son's luggage has gotten lost on an international flight.

Read This Because I Probably Won't Call: Continental Airlines will Steal Your Luggage and Ruin Your Career

This is Day 3 of Dean stuck in Amsterdam with no luggage, no bike (for which he paid a surprise $150 fee when bikes are supposed to ship free on international flights unless they don't like the way you look), and no way to compete in the 6-day racing event in which he was contracted to appear.

Continental doesn't even know where his luggage is. "Luggage" meaning a custom-built track bike, uniforms, bike shoes, and peripherals valued at - I don't know - lots.
If Continental is not providing tracking information on this, then it's probably safe to assume it's been stolen while in their possession. Which means it's a security matter. Which means it's also a matter for HOMELAND Security - if some employee of the carrier is tampering with cargo, then it wouldn't take a Libyan "businessman" to get something onto one of their flights.

Has anyone else had an experience in the past fifteen or so years with luggage that was lost, stolen, or misdirected and never recovered? Did the airline ever explain how and where the scan trail went cold?

UPDATE, 2:28 PM 10/18/09: The missing bag has been recovered. But the mystery remains: Where has it been? I doubt Continental will ever provide a straight answer to that.

Read This Because I Probably Won't Call: Continental Sucks, but Dean Survives

*I had this happen with a FedEx package at work a few years ago. After realizing that a missing asset had actually been shipped more than a week before, I used FedEx's tracking system to follow the package to, I think, a FedEx facility in Tennessee. We contacted that facility, and they were able to locate a package whose shipping label had fallen off - the missing package.

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