Hello, friends! As you know, I just arrived back from three and a half weeks in the USA visiting family and friends. My luggage, however, has not made it home. In fact, as far as I can tell, it probably never made it to the USA. At this point, a month later, nobody really knows where it is.
Maybe my suitcase decided it was time for a world tour. Or that it had had enough and was retiring to a beach in Oahu. In any case, I spent the whole trip without my carefully packed and planned suitcase. And, Iâve now logged more hours with British Airways than anyone should ever spend listening to a recording tell you they regret how long theyâve kept you waiting.
The Lost Suitcase Fiasco And How to Avoid Your Own Lost Luggage Mess
How the Luggage was Lost
My luggage never made it on my first plane from Dusseldorf to London. Although it did arrive in London the next day, it didnât arrive before I had moved on. The catch in this is that I booked my ticket from Dusseldorf to London separately because of incredible deal on a business class ticket from London. That meant that in London I was supposed to collect my luggage and check in with a new airline the next day.
I flew British Airways (booked with award miles called Avios) from Dusseldorf to London. The rest of my trip was on Delta.
No one is sure why my bag didnât get on the plane in Dusseldorf. I did only arrive about an hour before departure because of an accident on the highway going to the airport (not mine, fortunately). Dusseldorf is not an exceptionally large airport so it should have still made it. But alas, it did not.
A Series of Near Misses
British Airways assured me that if my bag didnât arrive in London before I leftâthere were 5 more BA flights from Dusseldorf arriving that dayâthey would forward the luggage to my final destination. I gave them the address, and assumed someone would have the intelligence to Google which of the Hawaiian Islands the address was on. That was my first mistake.
When I called BA one hour before my flight the next morning, they cheerily informed me that my bag had just arrived in Heathrow terminal 5 and I could come collect it. A bit of quick math on their part and mine made us all realize that just the bag, or both the bag and me were not getting on my flight. Again, they assured me they would have the bag in Hawaii by the time I arrived and not to worry. I still wonder if this was mistake number two.
Customer Service Disaster
Supposedly the bag flew from London to LA, and then on to Honolulu. At one point they told me that it actually arrived in Hawaii before me. However, no one in either LA or Honolulu actually saw the bag.
On top of that, Honolulu is on the Island of Oahu, a different Island than Kauai. And I was staying on Kauai. There was no obvious plan to get the bag from Oahu to Kauai, and no way for me to easily get to Oahu.
Thus began a solid three weeks of daily morning calls to British Airways to see if they had found my bags. Each time, the friendly agent assured me they were doing all they could and offered their own personal theory about where the bag was, while mentioning that they couldnât give me a phone number of anyone who could actually locate the bag â nor were they allowed to call the various BA locations. In other words, they assumed the ostrich-with-head-in-sand posture while hollering up, âwe are looking for it!â.
At some point, I realized that I should NOT call the British Airways lost luggage number (a call center in India whose sole job is to tell customers they are doing something, while they are unable to do anything), and instead call the main customer service number. My cousin also suggested I file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in the US, since the bag was (maybe) lost in the USA.
After weeks of back and forth, submitting receipts, and long speeches (by them) on why they canât reimburse the full value of my bag and items I purchased, they are supposed to reimburse me today for $1576.99. Hooray! Although I would love to get my bag back, with the extra purchases and hassle, at least I am getting some money out of this.
How to Prevent a Similar Disaster
Since Iâve now had the opportunity to tell everyone I know about the lost luggage, Iâve gotten a lot of practical advice of how to avoid a similar situation in the future. Iâve also reflected on each step of my trip and what I would do differently. Here will be my luggage strategy going forward:
While packing the suitcase I will do the following:
- Attach two sturdy luggage tags to the outside of the bag
- Pack one full size sheet of paper, in a plastic sheet protector, with all my contact information on the top of the suitcase so anyone opening it will see it right away.
- Take a photo of the outside of the suitcase, and attach a distinctive feature
- Take photos of the packed items, and note brands of a few significant items
- Try to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the flight to give luggage handlers time to load the suitcase
- Book travel insurance that covers lost luggage
If the Suitcase is Lost
In the unfortunate situation that despite the best efforts, the suitcase is lost, I will double-check that the airline that has the luggage has a direct flight to my final destination. If there is no direct flight, I will reconsider what to do with the bag. Options I’d consider:
- Sending it directly home,
- Sending it to a friend in an alternate address
- Staying an extra day to wait for the luggage
While all of these options are inconvenient, they are the best chances to get the luggage back. If youâve booked travel insurance, they should be able to help you with all these steps.
Of course, if the value of you luggage and its contents was not so high, and would like a new wardrobe, you can always hope your suitcase is lost forever and the airline will pay for your new wardrobe. That is an option.
How to Book to Avoid Lost Luggage
In general, airlines are more likely to lose luggage whenever the luggage has to be transferred from one airline to another, even if they are in the same alliance. The same is true for short connection times, when there is simply not time to load the luggage on the new plane before takeoff. Of course, that also means last-minute airport arrivals are more likely to have luggage not make the plane.
The strategies here are simple:
- Try to book connecting flights with at least 1.5 to 2 hour connection times.
- Arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight, especially if it is a large airport.
- Avoid flights that require you to change airlines mid-travel. If you have to take them, make sure you have sufficient connection time of 2+ hours.
The Moral of This Story
The moral of this story is that in the end, my suitcase was just full of stuff. I am safe and healthy. And I got to spend time with my wonderful family and friends, who are also safe and healthy. I also got to visit beautiful places. And I am even more grateful for the beautiful opportunities each day of life brings.
I learned I could travel with much less. And I got some beautiful cozy new sweaters I wouldnât have purchased otherwise! So all around, perhaps it was a win.
While they will keep looking for my suitcase for 2 more months, I am at peace with the outcome. Sometimes, even with the best planning leads to disastrous results. Travel insurance helps. But more than that, being grateful for each day of this magical life makes it easier.
Until next time, cheers!
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