Correspondent Report: Lost Baggage Part 2 – where it gets worse and I hone my skills

RTC Correspondent JB of Capital One car rental fame, contributes the hilarious, cringe-inducing conclusion to his multi-continent lost luggage experience, see part 1’s adventures.

Four days later we fly SAA from Joburg to Santiago via São Paulo in biz class. At the check-in counter we are chatting with the agent for a while and I look down at my baggage tag and it has our bag checked through to Santiago. We have a 9-hour layover in a hotel in São Paulo so I asked her to check our bags only to São Paulo. Ooops, she had already sent one of our bags. We had 2.5 hours until our flight left so I asked if she could get the bag back and make the change. She stared at me for 30 seconds and said it would be difficult. My wife had her toiletries in the bag, we just had had a bad experience with luggage and wanted to handle the connection ourselves, ect.
I should have not given the woman an excuse to sabotage our trip. I think this is a ridiculous thing to say but in truth it took me so long to recover the bag I wish I had let it go. Since I was flying business class and it was very slow at the biz class check-in I asked her to do it anyway.
She spent 25 minutes on the phone with someone in baggage. She brusquely grabbed her keys and walked off with the modified baggage tag. 25 minutes later she returned. I looked her in the eyes and asked if it was OK? She said yes. I thanked her but she was so weird at that point that I knew something would happen.
My wife’s bag did not make it to São Paulo. We filed a lost bag claim with a sympathetic gentleman:
  1. She got an immediate $100 USD equivalent payout after we specifically asked (different than in Joburg).
  2. He gave her his email address and said he would email us with the flight info when the bag was placed on a São Paulo to Santiago flight.
  3. He told us he had a friend on LAN airlines (not a Star-Alliance partner) and would get our bag on that flight (he did not do this).
We lost 1.5 hours dealing with this and only slept 3 hours at the hotel before we flew out to Santiago.
We met friends in Santiago and went to the countryside for 2 days, returning on Sunday. We got an email from São Paulo baggage that her bag was on a TAM flight that arrived at 1:20am Sunday (aka late Saturday night).
We called Monday morning to the TAM Santiago office and they gave us the lost baggage line. On the 20th call to the number, someone picked up and confirmed that they did not have the bag. We checked the online system and there was no information at all – not even a scan at the São Paulo baggage claim. We called South African Airlines and they said it has been sent to Santiago and is no longer their issue.We asked about delayed baggage compensation and they said, “It’s not lost, we found it and sent it to Santiago – so there is not compensation.” We did not have the bag but SAA was saying it was not “lost” anymore so they did not have to pay for “delayed baggage”. What kind of logic is that?
We got an email from TAM Santiago at 5pm saying they had the bag. We called (15 times before someone picked up) and they said they would not deliver today and wouldn’t commit to tomorrow AND they were leaving so we couldn’t pick it up today.
We were leaving Chile in 2 days so guess what time it was? Time to spend the evening at the airport!
We hopped a taxi to the airport ($30 USD).
TAM’s offices were indeed closed so we split up – my wife attempted to get through security to get to the baggage agents we know were camped out in baggage arrivals. This did not work but the security personnel were very sympathetic. I went to arrivals and asked the ticketing agent to call a supervisor to let us into the office. After 25 minutes she told me that the evening baggage agent would be headed to the office in an hour and to come back and she would try her then. I texted my wife to meet me at the office door and we asked everyone entering/exiting the door if they were the baggage supervisor. Word got back to the baggage supervisor that we were waiting (bugging people) at the entrance and she showed up in half an hour and we had the bag.
Lessons:
  • Always ask if the bag is checked all the way through (and try to confirm it for yourself independently) or if you need to grab it at customs. In São Paulo we would have had to recheck it anyway so the whole fiasco didn’t have to happen at all. I remember when we flew through Accra, Ghana last year – we insisted to our airline escort that we wait and transfer our bags ourselves.
  • The second your bag is handed off to another carrier – all bets are off.
  • If your bag has not gotten to you in 24 hours it likely is deprioritized – it is not delayed, its lost.
  • Star Alliance uses a systemwide lost baggage system that is (online) unreliably updated. Grab someone at your connecting airport and get their personal email. Make it their responsibility.

Postmortem:

  • I wrote a letter to South African. No response.
  • I wrote a letter to the United Affiliate travel complaint dept. No response.
  • I wrote to TAM airlines. Hah.

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  • Eric

    Happens to the best of us. At least you weren’t recently kicked off a flight for taking photos 🙂

  • There is nothing worse than finding out after a long day of travel that your bags didn’t make it.  Last year in Rome I found out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies when it comes to getting your misplaced luggage returned. Okoban tracker tags are equal to way more than a pound of cure in my book. They allow the airline or anyone else who finds your bags to immediatly contact you by email or text (without revealing your personal information) with a pickup location. I got mine at Mystufflostandfound.com It worked like a charm for me and I ended up getting my lost bags back in less than 2 hours.

  • Harry

    I am waiting on a large suitcase, which contains all of my clothing and toiletries, as well as a few souvenirs. It has been beyond 24 hours. What I have noticed is that they claim on their report, which is available for my viewing via the web, that I will be at my present hotel until July 30th, when I stated that I would be at the hotel until the 29th. I have noticed people who take information will hear what you say, view what you write, and then they will input contradictory, and often times self serving information. I’ve heard and witnessed hotel staff elsewhere, for example, being very apologetic over some issue or another, only once you happen to come across their note or memo, which they leave behind for other staff, they turn the issue entirely around in order to place you at fault. There is a lot of dishonesty in the (self) serving industry. Today, in Prague, I watched one hotel guest after another complain at the registration desk that there was NO water coming out of the shower. I had taken a three minute shower before the pressure dropped to zero. Staff cheerfully explained that the water would return at 2;00pm; check out time was at 10:00am; and no, they would not return any money paid in advance should anyone decide to cancel a stay; none of it was there fault, they could not have warned anyone in advance, as they had only just learned of the underground repair work visibly being made at the street corner, some 50 ft. away…
    Clearly, they had advance notice, and clearly the work should have been carried out at a more convenient hour, but that is how people tend to work…