Timeline of lost luggage at Heathrow
For my story of this summer's airport chaos, I describe a nightmare at Heathrow with luggage lost by Lufthansa. The main story on Forbes.com is about what airlines could be doing better when overloaded, but this sudebar will outline a timeline of all the things going wrong.
This is just one part of the story of travel today, and illustrates the Catch-22 of how multiple things are breaking down as the world suddenly returns to air travel while the airlines don't have the staff and resources to handle their old passenger loads.
- Jan 2, 11am, Sofia: Check 3 bags with LH, 25 minutes before luggage deadline. In addition, as LH has advised flight will be full and requested passengers check carry-ons if they can, one carry-on is also checked all the way to LHR.
- Bags do not get onto the flight in Sofia.
- At Frankfurt, plane stops near wrong gate, and bus takes passengers to other entry. It takes almost an hour to walk and take the train back to almost the same location (!) through strange deserted non-Schengen corridors of FRA. Much faster to just enter and exit Schengen and thus not lose 30 minutes time planned for the lounge for lunch. While our bags are not with us, no notice is given.
- 4pm arrive LHR and wait for bags. Get notice there was some problem, head to baggage service desk
- Many bags are lost, few agents are on duty and queue is long. Call phone service desk while in line. They say they can't help without a file number.
- Attempt to get file number online. Web interface says for this itinerary, we must go to the service desk
- While waiting, a Turo peer-to-peer car rental provider is outside to hand us a car. He's very flexible. Normally a situation like this would probably screw up a Turo rental.
- While in line, notification comes that bags are approved for later LH flight 922 FRA->LHR. Somehow they made it to Frankfurt (not shown how) and will get to LHR in 5 hours.
- When desk agent is reached, he says that delivery to hotels is running very slow and will take several days. Our trip is only 5 nights, with hotel arranged each evening. Delivery will be impossible.
- Agent strongly advises not to file lost luggage claim, but instead just wait until bags arrive and get them, or we won't get them. Says that we can leave the hall and ask LH rep to escort us back in.
- Another LHR staffer says that we can leave, but would not be able to get back in during the evening as that is shut down then. Says we can instead come back in morning to get bags by going to special phone outside in arrivals level. This phone lets you call baggage desk to get escorted in to get bags.
- We collect car and attempt to get hotel near LHR for the night. This is almost impossible(*) and takes an hour if we don't want to pay $400. We get a room 45 minutes away.
- In the morning we return, park, and go to the luggage access phone. There is a long queue in front of it. People in the queue report nobody has answered for 90 minutes. One person has been there several hours. When they answer they just talk to one person.
- I go upstairs to departures to find an LH rep. It is packed and chaotic. LH rep says they have been instructed not to help with luggage, that somebody should be coming out to collect people every half hour. This is not true, of course.
- Back at the phone, many give up. One person gets an answer. In talking they tell the agent others are in line and that he wants to hand the phone to one. The agent disconnects.
- Finally we get through. Agent says if bags came last night, they are now in "the warehouse." We are not allowed to go there or learn where it is. There is no way to get a file number for a lost bag claim. Web app continues to fail.
- We give up and leave with just (some of) our carry-ons. While driving, I call LH luggage support. It says wait time 15 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, they answer, and say I need file number. I ask them to call me back if disconnected -- we are driving but they are not allowed to. She finally agrees to try to make a file number, but of course in the middle of that, as you would guess, we are disconnected.
- Next day the desk opens at 9am. I call every second around 9am and am one of the first to get in. I am told wait is 2 minutes -- fantastic.
- After 90 minutes of hold music, I give up. We are here to have a holiday, not to hunt for luggage, and head out late to the streets of Cardiff for breakfast.
- I try to call LH's US customer service number. A recording says they have given up taking calls, call back later or use the web. They are in this state for several days!
- Next day, experimenting with the app, I find that you can file a lost luggage report if one only mentions the SOF->FRA leg, and not LHR. It makes the reassuring claim our bags have been found. I have to file 4 claims with this trick, I can't put all the bags on one. We must describe each bag, but of course we don't remember what tag belongs with what bag.
- Over the next few days a few tidbids show up. One bag says it is scheduled to fly to LAX. Another to SFO. A third only shows that it is going to fly back on July 2 on that flight all the bags eventually took to LHR. The 4th bag shows nothing.
- We finish our travels with carry-on and purchased replacement items (coats, clothing, etc.) We fly back to San Francisco.
- July 9, we receive a notice from LH's baggage contractor in San Francisco that the first 2 bags will be picked up by 5pm and delivered to our home by 11pm. On Euro time, we go to sleep well before then but they don't arrive.
- For the next 3 days the web site continues to say the bags will be delivered July 9. Still no sign. No update on the other two bags. One continues to say it was sent to SFO July 6.
- July 12, LH baggage support in the UK is finally answering without a huge wait. They file follow up queries for me on the bags.
- That gets some traction, whereismysuitcase (luggage delivery contractor) reports picking up 2 of the bags. And one (but only one) is delivered at 6pm. 3 more to go. Web site goes back to saying delivering July 9.
- Jan 14 I am texted a photo of lost bag #2 and it appears it will go out for delivery. 2 still status unknown.
(*) Why was it so hard to find a hotel? Well, partly they were all booked up except some very pricey ones. But also there is a low-cost hotel chain in the UK called Premier Inns which has a very large number of hotels, all of which were sold out, but it kept advertising them all as available in Google hotel search, making it very difficult to use that product, our normal standby. It is not unusual for OTAs to advertise hotels as available that are not, but it's usually more occasional, not an entire large chain.
A few have suggested that a product like Apple AirTags would have helped here. Perhaps slightly, but the reality is that I've generally had a decent idea where the bags are. The problem has been getting to them. But there are times when it might have helped on the rare instances I could get to a service agent to know more than they did.