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Indygirl2 Feb 16th, 2007 07:03 AM

Delayed and Damaged Luggage: a Cautionary Tale
 
I wanted to share with you the details of my recent luggage issues with American Airlines as a bit of a cautionary tale:

I recently flew from Indianapolis to Paris via Chicago on American Airlines. I had a three-hour layover in Chicago which, in my mind, is plenty of time. While I arrived in Paris as scheduled, my luggage did not. I was told that it was still in Chicago.

Much to my frustration, the agents at AA's Paris office did not apologize for the problem and I had to beg them for a stipend so that I could buy some toiletries. They reluctantly offered me $50. I was told that my bag would be on the next flight from Chicago and would be delivered to my hotel.

I spent the better part of my first day in Paris shopping for shampoo and the like since. That stuff is not cheap and my $50 did not go far. On Saturday, I went about my day as planned and told my hotel to expect my luggage. When I returned at 5 p.m., I was told that the bag had not arrived.

Unfortunately, AA's Paris baggage claim office closes at 3 p.m. A friend of mine who happened to be in Paris at the same time, however, had a number for AA in the States (that wasn't a 1-800 number) and we talked to an agent who said that my bag had arrived in Paris but had not been "checked in." She assumed that it was, for an unexplained reason, stuck in Customs. She offered me another $50 stipend. In the meantime, my hotel's concierge left a very pointed message at AA's Paris office explaining that I needed the luggage first thing on Sunday. I have to admit that at this point, I really lost it. I was tired and wearing dirty clothes and was in no mood for this hassle. I spent the better part of the evening crying in my hotel room. I was afraid that AA had actually lost my bag and was simply trying to buy some time.

The following day, I called AA in Paris about 10 mintutes after the flight from Chicage was due to arrive and was told that my bag had just arrived. They offered no exlanation as to why it hadn't been on the previous day's flight nor could they reconcile what I'd been told the previous night by the AA representative from the U.S. I was told that the bag would be delivered by mid-day. I had to ask for an apology.

The bag was, indeed, delivered that day. Unfortunately and without explanation, the bag had been damaged beyond repair. The fabric on the back of the bag had been ripped apart and the handle used to wheel it had been broken in two. The deliveryman told the concierage that I needed to photograph the damage and show the pictures to AA. It was immediately clear that I would have to buy a new bag in order to get home from Paris.

So this is when the fun really began. I called them the next morning to complain about the damage. They claimed that they never saw the damage, which is incredibly hard to believe. They told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to have to prove to them that the bag was damaged. They suggested that I buy a new bag and bring the receipt for the bag, along with my old bag to the airport on my way home. When asked, however, if they would pay for the cab ride that would allow me to do that, they refused. They also refused to give me the address of the shop they use in Paris to repair and replace damaged bags. Finally, they agreed to give me an email address so that I could send them digital pictures of the damage. They were supposed to contact me at my hotel upon reviewing them.

When I didn't hear from them the next morning, I called AA's Paris office and talked to yet another agent. He insisted that I had to prove the damage to AA, but that emailed pictures would not suffice. When I explained how difficult that would be, he finally gave me the address to AA's repair shop and insisted that I could buy a new bag there at AA's expense if my old bag was indeed damaged beyond repair. During the course of the conversation, he had the audacity to complain to me that "everything with me was complicated." Needless to say that I lost my cool at this point.

In any event, after a 10 Euro cab ride to the outskirts of the 2nd Arrondissement, I found the shop and the clerk immediately agreed that I needed a new bag. She insisted, however, that I had to pay for the bag and that AA would reimburse me for it. She only spoke broken English and so I was having a hard time explaining the situation to her. She agreed to write a note for AA explaining that the bag was badly damaged and assured me that I would be reimbursed. I took a leap of faith at that point and bought a new bag, leaving my old bag behind.

Upon returning to my hotel, I called AA again and talked to the same agent. While I was on the line, he called the shop and talked to the clerk. When he got back on the line, he assured me that I would be reimbursed the correct amount and instructed me to go to AA's baggage claim office in Chicago. He further assured me that he would make a note of all of this in my file. He fortunately apologized for his earlier comment and for the way the situation had been handled.

Upon arriving in Chicago, I went to their baggage office and got more of a runaround, however. One agent told me that I was only entitled to $100 (for the delay) while another insisted that I was only entitled to be reimbursed for the bag. He insisted that I needed to talk to someone at their 1-800 number to get the $100 stipend. At that point, I threw a hissyfit and had both the agent in Chicago and an agent on my cell phone listen to me rant about their horrible customer service. A minute later, I received a check for the full amount--$290.

I say all of this to recommend a few things. Buy trip insurance. This was the first trip to Europe where I did do so and that was dumb, dumb, dumb. If I had had insurance, I would likely not have spent any time bothering with AA. I would have just filed a claim with the insurer. I would also recommend taking photographs of your baggage and its contents before you leave home and be careful about what you do bring. If AA had lost my baggage, my compensation would have been limited to about $600, far less than the value of what was in my bag. Bring contact numbers that work overseas for your airline(s) and document every conversation as specifically as you can and ask that they do the same in your file. Get names. Finally, don't back down. I wish I could give AA the benefit of the doubt, but honestly I felt like they were purposely trying to make things so difficult for me that I'd just give up.

I hope you have better luck.....

Kate

sandi_travelnut Feb 16th, 2007 07:13 AM

I've never purchased trip insurance and didn't realize they could take care of an unfortunate situation like this for you.

MorganB Feb 16th, 2007 07:19 AM

Sorry to hear about your bag. Glad you recovered it. Unfortunately, most airlines do not know where your bag is until it shows up. They depend on scans and typically when the bag has been misdirected it is because it has been misscanned or not scanned at all which creates a misdirect. Until the bag is scanned and loaded they have no idea where it is. Lost bags are all to common. BA has lost my bag twice and they are never able to tell me a single thing till it shows up, but it always has.

The best thing to do in the future is to relax and enjoy your vacation. Your bag would have shown up with or without all of your phone calls. I personally would have informed AA of the damaged bag, bought a new one as suggested, and shown up at the airport with the damaged one and the replacement. I guess you planned on taking the RER instead of a cab to the airport and thats why you asked for them to pay for it?

I agree that luggage insurance is good advice if you cant personally afford to replace the contents. I only pack clothes in my bag and put my valuables such as electronics in my carry on.

alanRow Feb 16th, 2007 07:45 AM

No trip insurance will cover expensive items in checked luggage.
But all trip insurance will have a clause allowing you to purchase "necessities" if your bag is lost going to your holiday.
The insurance will also cover replacing damaged luggage but you must provide proof that you went through the airline's procedures

missypie Feb 16th, 2007 07:50 AM

I must say that stories like yours are why I buy cheap luggage. For a while, I was using bags that cost about $19 each. I admit that I have "graduated" to $99 bags, but I would hate to go above that.

alanRow Feb 16th, 2007 08:09 AM

I always find soft bags cope much better with airlines than hardshells. They also tend to be several pounds lighter which in these days of 23kg weight limits can be very useful

Fidel Feb 16th, 2007 08:12 AM

...no trip insurance will cover expensive items in checked luggage...

That's not true. My last policy covered $5000 for damaged/lost luggage and if I had couture suits in there I could buy extra coverage for those as well. What do you mean by "expensive?"

Christina Feb 16th, 2007 09:00 AM

I don't like AA and have had bad experiences with them, also, but some of the things you found so trying and stressful shouldn't happen if you plan ahead a little bit or just weren't necessary IMO.

I've had my bag delayed twice by Air France due to a tight connection, and I didn't freak over it, I just went about my business for a day until it showed up at my hotel. I didn't ask for any money for that. Air France does offer you a little amenities kit, but I think I turned it down as I didn't want to carry around another thing. If you were in a hotel with a concierge, no less (I've never stayed in one in Paris that high level), I just don't see why you'd have to spend $50 and a day shopping for toiletries. I'm sorry, I can't imagine what you were buying that was so necessary that even cost that much. Surely your hotel had soap and shampoo. I always carry a few little toiletries in my carryon, anyway, (toothpaste and brush) as well as something to sleep in like just a Tshirt, and an extra pair of underwear. I thought everyone knew to do that.

I also would have just bought a cheap piece of luggage in Paris (there are cheap luggage stores around, it wouldn't cost that much, they sell some at markets and street corners) and not spent my vacation traipsing around Paris to luggage repair shops.

People complain about Air France, but the two times my luggage was delayed, they were excellent in their service and delivered it to my hotel (with no damage) as promised within a day, even when the hotel was about 30 miles away from the airport.

wonderer Feb 16th, 2007 09:10 AM

We not only pack another change of clothes in our carry-on, but my husband and I pack 1/2 our clothes in each others bags just in case.

Piedmont_Phil Feb 16th, 2007 09:13 AM

You could also consider paying for your trip/flight with a credit card that offers travel insurance. I staged through Chicago from the UK to Vancouver and new security regs in Chicago meant they decided to destroy the locked case (busting it open for inspection). Amex covered the cost of repalcement (in Vancouver).

alanRow Feb 16th, 2007 09:16 AM

<<< What do you mean by "expensive?" >>>

I mean things like electronic goods which can easily disappear. Suits & the like are generally acknowledged as being too large to be excluded BUT I have known companies refuse to pay out on technical climbing clothing because they hadn't declared them to the insurance company beforehand

bubblywine Feb 16th, 2007 10:13 AM

The best way to avoid lost luggage is to pack very light and do carry-on, at least on the way to your destination. I am a clothes horse, but manage to just bring the very bare necessities on trips requiring flights.

Travelnut Feb 16th, 2007 10:26 AM

It feels kind of silly but I do take pix of our luggage, mostly in event I need to describe it to differentiate it from everyone else's lost black or navy-blue bag.
I buy trip insurance, but more for the emerg.med. than anything else. Did use if for passport replacement once.
I very much believe in making firm requests in voice volumes that may increase to keep in sync with my frustration/outrage level. Especially if other customers are in earshot. I think it's good to get out a pen and pad and make obvious copious notes of names, dates, comments, etc. in front of whomever is giving the runaround.

J_Correa Feb 16th, 2007 10:34 AM

Unfortunately with all the new travel restrictions regarding carry-on luggage, people are in a bit of a catch-22. We know we cannot trust the airlines to deliver our checked baggage, but we can no longer take much on the plane with us. Travelling exclusively carry-on is getting more and more difficult.

Our strategy is to pack valuables, at least a couple changes of clothes, and basic toiletries in our carry-on, then anything else goes in checked baggage. We travel fairly light and used to be able to get away with carry-on only, but lately we end up checking a bag for trips longer than a week.

This way, if it takes a few days for our luggage to catch up with us, then we are fine.

Indygirl2 Feb 16th, 2007 10:44 AM

Jeez, some of you are as bad as the airline. Seriously. I rolled with it as best I could, believe me, until the second delay. At no point did I say that I didn't enjoy my vacation. I did. But I'm also human, and I naturally got angry and frustrated when the bag was delayed a second day and when it arrived at my hotel badly damaged with no explanation from AA. I think most of you--despite your protestations to the contrary--would have had the same reaction.

As for packing, I'm an experienced traveler and not an imbecile. I packed enough clothes--sweaters and the like and an extra pair of shoes--to get through 10 days of travel. While I try not to overpack, it all adds up. None of my clothes are all that expensive taken alone. In the aggregate, however, they cost a lot. Enough that I couldn't afford to just replace them. I did not take any electronics with me, not even a camera. And if I did, they would have been in my carry-on. I did have my toothbrush and toothpaste in my carry-on, along with meds, most of my makeup, my contact solution, and glasses. Unlike some, however, I don't travel with a huge carry-on, although perhaps that's what I should do from now on.

When I referred to the concierge at my hotel, I was simply referring to the guy at the front desk. I paid 65 Euro a night for my room at a two-star hotel in the 6eme so I didn't expect a room that was fully stocked with toiletries. I'd stayed at this hotel once before, and knew that it was rather bare bones.

As for what could have cost so much. Well, simple things like deoderant and lotion at Monoprix all cost upwards of 6 Euro a piece. I have long hair, so the tiny little travel containers don't go very far and I had to buy shampoo and conditioner. I used to keep all of that in my carry-on, but with the new restrictions, I packed a lot more than usual in my checked baggage. Believe me when I say that not everything you're going to need for a 10-day trip fits in 3 ounce containers in a 1 quart zip lock bag. Just so I wouldn't have to bother with it in my carry-on, I stupidly (I'll admit to that) packed my winter scarf and gloves. So, I had to buy those too. It quicky added up.

As for "all the phone calls," I made as many as I felt were necessary given the situation. One of you suggested that even with trip insurance, I would have had to follow the airline's procedures. Well, figuring out their procedure when they wouldn't even admit that the bag was damaged was not easy. How many of you wouldn't have called the airline after the bag didn't show up the second day or when it finally showed up damaged beyond repair? I think some of you are making yourself out to be far more laid back than you would have been in my shoes. This didn't turn out to be your basic one-day delay.

Maybe some of you have money to throw around, but I expected to be compensated for the bag. Period. I was ready to just buy a cheap bag until an agent directed me to the repair shop. Based on what he told me, this was the only way I was going to be reimbursed for any expense related to the damaged bag. I certainly didn't have the money or enough hands to buy a new bag and bring that and the old bag and my carry-on with me to the airport. I was traveling alone if that matters and dealing with the just one bag and carry-on was more than enough. Heck, there wasn't even enough room in my hotel room for another bag.

But thanks for your sympathy. I'm touched.

Carrybean Feb 16th, 2007 11:22 AM

Indygirl, sorry about your experiences. Adding jetlag to frustration makes the whole situation worse, I'm sure.

I figured the "blame the victim" situation would happen on this thread.

LucieV Feb 16th, 2007 12:07 PM

indygirl, don't let the bedbugs bite. You did nothing wrong, other than to post here. Misinterpretation (and its corollary, Knee-Jerk Reaction), is the sine qua non of forums like these. Go have a nice big piece of really good chocolate, on me.
B-)

WLS Feb 16th, 2007 12:22 PM

When did the posters here get so preachy and judgemental?

Indygirl2: Your experience sounds very frustrating. Any time at all taken from your vacation is too much time. Getting the run-around from airlines is exhausting as well as agrivating. We all try to roll with the punches and expect the unexpected but its not always easy. I, for one, appreciate that you took the time to write about your experience. A reminder to pack expecting the possibility of problems (and perhaps I will pack a xanax for our upcoming trip!)

suze Feb 16th, 2007 12:28 PM

But truly, I don't believe everyone reacts the same way to this kind of thing. I never throw hissy fits (ever). And my suitcase only cost $50 so that's not a concern.

I'm pretty certain I would have gone out to drink some wine or cocktails somewhere, then taken out my charge card and done basic shopping. And waited to deal with the rest after I got home. oh, plus taken that xanax that MissZiegfled was kind enough to offer.

Please don't hear this as negative about what you shared. Not good when luggage is delayed and damaged!! But it seems like having to continue to deal with the airlines for those two days is what really was upsetting you the most.

Indygirl2 Feb 16th, 2007 12:31 PM

"You did nothing wrong, other than to post here."

LucieV, you got that right. The bulk of you apparently think little of spending $750 for a flight only to have your baggage delayed by two (not one) days and ripped apart in the process. No, nothing inside was damaged or missing. I enjoyed my trip, learned a few lessons, and thought I'd share the experience with you. I didn't expect to be lectured about how unreasonable I was to bring anything of any value to Paris with me, to want clean hair and fresh clothes within 24 hours of arrival, or to expect a company to behave with even a modicum of professionalism.

And I'm now "yelling" at you because frankly some of are just so reactionary and critical. Why not just either ignore my post or be even mildly sympathetic?





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