Friday, July 11, 2014

Travel Woes -- The Lost Luggage Blues and Why I Go Carry-On Only

 It was my daughter's birthday yesterday, and we all hoped that Alitalia might give her the gift of returning the luggage she checked three weeks ago. To be fair, she didn't check it with Alitalia, but it was transferred into their care in Amsterdam and failed to arrive in Rome. Traveling with a toddler, she and her husband and managed to pack most of what they needed for the week in one checked case. Its failure to arrive meant they still had to wrestle the car-seat and porta-crib along with said toddler and their small back-packs/carry-ons to the train the next day for the two-hour trip to Peschici. And it meant that a whirlwind shopping trip on a very tight budget was mandatory.

I'm very proud of that little family, who got through their week in two changes of outfits and a few pieces the rest of us lent them (I surrendered a t-shirt, a long navy Gap skirt, and a brand-new pair of espadrilles I'd bought -- Liberty print! -- that were sadly proving to be a bit too big anyway).

In future, Megan and Rob will be careful to include a change in their carry-on luggage, and they'll never again check their meds. It's tough, though, when you're wrangling an 18-month old. That wrangling is probably also responsible for the loss of that all-important baggage claim check -- you know, that little square of paper that always breaks away from your boarding pass? and has those sticky pieces on the back that correspond to your checked luggage but that no one ever checks?

Anyway, the bag has been sighted several times. At first, at the airport, their airline claimed no knowledge of it whatsoever, and Megan wasn't allowed to file a claim without her baggage check (since the bag did eventually surface in an airport away from the one they'd checked into, it's safe to say it's in the computer system along with everything else that travelled with them. It's also safe to speculate that a scan of a passport could probably bring up every piece of luggage any of them have ever travelled with in the last, say 5 to 10 years.) However, while Megan and Rob were making the most of their swim gear and shorts and sundresses and t-shirts (and Harriet was delighting in even more nudity than she's regularly allowed), they got an email from some alert employee somewhere in Rome. Is this your bag? Yes, yes it certainly is. Okay, then, we'll send it to Toronto.

But they didn't. When the family disembarked in Toronto at the end of a holiday spent without all their best summer gear, they hurried to pick up the luggage so they could bring it with them on the connecting flight to Vancouver.
Um, what bag?

Many phone calls and emails and tears and every bad word you can think of were employed. Rob made a trip out to Vancouver airport and talked to many people at many desks. And four days ago, they got another call and yes, the bag was in Rome. There was some question about how it would be returned, since Alitalia doesn't fly in and out of Vancouver, but it was there and somehow it would get to them. Just hang on. . . .

And then on Thursday, Megan updated her Facebook status to
Guess what??? They lost our baggage again. For the 3rd time. Is this funny yet? #alitalia #lostluggage #areyoukiddingme — feeling pained.

So we're all still waiting. Crossing our fingers. If you have time to cross yours too, that would be much appreciated.

Meanwhile, when Paul and I checked in for our flight, very early on the same Saturday that Megan and Rob and Harriet would be flying home without their luggage, we were pressured by the desk agent to check ours, although it was clearly within the guidelines for carry-on. Apparently the British Airways flight was fully booked, and there might not be room for our bags; we were given stern looks and frowns and admonitions about the possibility of the bags being left at the boarding gate and transferred to the hold. Paul was almost ready to comply, but I'm afraid I dug my heels in.

"Another airline has lost my daughter's luggage for a week, and I'm just not prepared to take that chance with mine," I said. I was inspired by a memory of a colleague who had refused a similar request by Air Canada. Her luggage had been "misplaced" for a very inconvenient two days on her two previous flights, and she just said "No, I'm not checking it."

We'd paid extra for seats at the curve of the plane's rear, where there were two seats instead of three, so there was plenty of room in the overhead bins. And we've become so practiced in our routines with our bags that no other passengers were disturbed by ours. We carry them easily, heft them above easily, and our other tote-sized/purse/briefcase carry-on slides easily and quickly under the seat. There are times when bags must be checked, yes, and we paid extra to do this with Easy-Jet whose guidelines are very clear and very fairly enforced on this issue (Based on our flight from Paris to Bari, I can't say enough good things about Easy-Jet; fabulous service!).

But if I made myself manage with only a carry-on for an entire month of travel, do you think I would then surrender the convenience that discipline had earned me, all because one desk agent tried to intimidate me? (and to be fair, every other aspect of our British Airways flights, particularly the Vancouver - Heathrow - Vancouver portions, was good)

So, if after reading all this, you're wondering what the photos have to do with the text, here's a sample of what that single carry-on yielded me in terms of outfits. The biggest demand of the capsule wardrobe was the swing from cool and rainy during our 4 days in London to the weeks of high-20s, low 30s temperatures in Bordeaux and Peschici.

Not shown here, but also in my Rimowa case were a Longchamps bag, 3 t-shirts (2 white, 1 aqua), a long-sleeved white shirt, two more scarves (wouldn't bother with this many next time, at least not at this time of year. No one was wearing scarves in the heat! no matter how French!). I also packed a swimsuit bottom with two tops, two cover-ups, and all my running gear. Leaving my running shoes behind (I'd deliberately brought along a pair ready to be retired) left me room in my case for the little bit of shopping I did, as did lending my skirt, a t-shirt, and my Longchamps bag to my daughter. The denim jacket, of course, got worn onto the plane rather than take up suitcase space.

 I'm not saying the carry-on route is for everyone, nor that I don't occasionally regret it. We could have brought back some amazing olive oil at amazing prices had we been willing to check our bags. Then again, all that olive oil might still be Lost in Rome . . . .
I'm off to Vancouver on the ferry later today, filling the same Rimowa case to the brim for only five days! I'm loving having my whole wardrobe at my disposal again, although in the run of high 20s weather we're enjoying, I'm actually ending up in my swimsuit much of the time, an easy skirt and T combo or a sundress otherwise. . . Indeed, if it weren't for a daughter's baby shower on Sunday, I'd probably not leave our beach until this weather's done, but family calls. . .

I'm bringing my iPad mini with me and will surely Blogsy-post from Vancouver, but meanwhile, care to share your lost-luggage stories? Or travel tricks on avoiding them? (The best thing my daughter did, for example, the one that may yet get the bag back to her, is something I've been doing for years -- eschewing all those complicated luggage tags for the simplicity of an email address, both inside your case and attached outside -- it doesn't let potential thieves know more about your empty house's location than you want them to, and you're probably checking email regularly, even while away). Or you're more than welcome simply to lay down some sympathy and encouragement for a curly-haired redhead who really wants to wear a favourite long sundress before summer's gone. . . . 

19 comments:

  1. After my two incidents of lost bags and my ripped bag, I am likely to fly carryon next time. You look pulled together and Eurochic in your navy/white? wardrobe. It is so frustrating to deal with airline bureaucracy especially with a small child. Have a good time at the baby shower!

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    1. You really did have bad luck with your luggage this trip! At least it did get back to you, finally. Enjoy tis great weekend weather!

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  2. Gosh that luggage mishap sounds dreadful.
    I must figure out how I can pack two weeks of clothes in a carry on...which airline have you has the best service from?

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  4. I have ALWAYS been a carry-on girl. When they changed the carry on policy so that you can only bring a miniscule bag, I got with the program. I could definitely travel for a month in a tiny bag. I mean, I have traveled for 2.5 weeks with one and there are a couple of things I haven't got around to wearing. And I'm bringing home lots of stuff.

    I feel you on the baggage check but let me tell you a ridiculous story: My kid, last summer, went to see my parents in NC. Direct flight. Since it's a mini plane, you check carry on baggage at the gate. I have reminded M 8 zillion times about how you wait at the gate to pick it up when you debark. She's been bitchy about how she knows what she's doing and I'm a nag. Last time, on her way home, my mother tried to put a tag on M's luggage (just in case) but she said no, that she wasn't checking it. When she got to TO, instead of waiting for the luggage, she just walked away from the gate. (She lost her train of thought, as she tends to do, and an older couple - who didn't understand what she'd done - advised her to go to baggage check. The bag had no tags. She was lost in the airport, wondering what to do, for 2 hours. I cannot begin to tell you how a) worried I was about her and b) insanely pissed I was to be waiting. I mean, when I was 14 I got myself to nowhere-Somerset 5 times a year for boarding school. This kid couldn't manage to get off a direct flight with fucking carry-on luggage?!?!?

    I was BEYOND pissed about the loss of all of her new school clothing which my mother had purchased for her while she was visiting. In fact, she didn't get much new clothing. She had to make due with her old, too-small stuff on principle.

    We never found the luggage but I cannot even blame Air Canada. That's my story.

    PS: I have never checked medication but I can only imagine how tricky that must have been. I really feel for a young family on a far-away vacation with nothing.

    PPS: Love the comment about Harriet and her nakedness - adorbs!

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  5. Plus - I LOVE that blue skirt. I think that the west coast style is similar, in some ways to the French style. You do not look out of place at all. Mind you, your rack is French-style :-)

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    1. Let's try this again, Blogger haven't chomped my first attempt. Replied that I hope your daughter caught this lesson, not just about the travel process but also about what mom might know.
      And I cracked up at your comment about my French rack. Hope readers might go look for your post on shopping in France for your non-French assets.

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  6. You make such a good case for carry-on! (Ouch, I just got the pun!) Fingers are crossed that the luggage turns up soon!

    A couple of months ago my sister-in-law and her husband (a dentist) were going on a medical mission to Peru. They travelled from Cape Breton with Air Canada, via Toronto. Somehow, despite a 7-8 hour layover, Air Canada was not able to get the two hockey bags containing much-needed equipment onto the plane to Lima. My sister-in-law had to spend extra money on flights from the small town they were in, back to Lima to pick up the bags, plus extra baggage fees since she was on her own. I think they were only there for a week or so, therefore they lost valuable time as well. Of course, Air Canada refused to reimburse them, so they went to the local tv station and aired their grievance. At this point we went on our house-hunting trip, so I lost track of what happened afterwards - I hope that AC paid up!

    We are planning our trip to the UK and Germany for October, so I doubt that we will be going carry-on only, especially since we are mostly staying with family and friends so we'll be taking gifts. I usually put an envelope inside our cases with our itinerary and other info. Thanks for the tip of putting the email address - I never thought of that before.

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    1. I hope AC paid up as well, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Paul has sworn off them for the foreseeable future after their poor handling of some flight problems last year.
      I'm pleased you find the email idea helpful. You're such an experienced traveller that I expect you know most of the tricks.

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  7. You know, I still can't convince le monsieur to go carry-on. In spite of the fact that I've managed it successfully our last 4 trips! One of his bags didn't make a connection to Paris on our second trip there, but even that isn't enough to sway him from his preference for more "options" (though I have managed to greatly reduce how much he packs by giving him lists of items and then packing his case myself). So glad to hear your Rimowa is working well for you! It looks as though you were still able to manage plenty of variety.

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    1. Interesting. I know a few couples in which the guys are the ones who balk at the restrictions of carry-on. to be fair, their shoes and garments are that much bigger and heavier ... My guy is a minimalist in many ways, so the small case suits him very well.

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  8. Certainly your outfits make a great case for checking bags in. I do hate schlepping them through the airport though:( So sorry for your daughter's experience, it sounds like the full comedy of errors.

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    1. I don't like the schlepping part either. Mind you, when we're managing ours easily onto trains and others are schlepping their much bigger bags, I feel quite lucky. Or taking the tube from Heathrow to King's Cross and pulling the case easily the two or three blocks to our hotel...

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  9. So sorry to hear of your daughter's family's mishaps but bravo to you all for having a wonderful trip in spite of this.

    Thanks for the email address tip. I hadn't thought of that. I put a mobile number on the baggage label and on a sheet of A4 inside the case (of a phone which will be travelling with me). Also, here in the UK our postcodes are very fine grained in that each code only refers to about 20 homes. So I add our house number and our postcode too. I have a touching faith that while lost luggage operatives have access to a postcode directory, ne-er do wells do not

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    1. Glad you find the email idea useful as well, although I know the mobile number would work just as well (I hardly use mine on vacation as the roaming fees are so high)

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  10. I admire you for managing with a carry-on for a complete month! I've never been able to do that, so I have to plan what to check in and what to carry with me (like a change of clothes, cosmetics, medication, presents...). The suitcase gets two different labels: one with the destination address on the way out, the other one with my home address for the return journey. But in the future I'm going to add the email, too. What a brilliant idea!
    I've arrived without my luggage on several occasions, but every time KLM (my favourite airline for transatlantic flights) delivered my case the next day or the day after.
    I recall only one real luggage problem: it started with the flight attendants of the Nicaraguan airline taking away my carry-on at the very last moment of boarding, alleging that it was too big for the cabin of the rather tiny aircraft. So there I was with a small handbag, containing my purse and my travel documents, and the clothes I was wearing, Socks, cardigan, scarf had all disappeared with my carry-on. Now this was in november and temperatures in Europe were fairly low. With several changes of planes and quite a few delays I finally arrived in Amsterdam but the luggage didn't. And my connecting flight had long since gone. So I got on a train and by the time I arrived home I was frozen solid. But it wasn't KLM's fault, and the very next day both my bags were duly delivered by a taxi.

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    1. Yikes! That must have been one horrid train ride home! We've also been very happy with KLM, and I've urged my daughter to lean on their good graces to get some satisfaction from their partner airline. We'll see, but after this long, it's not at all hopeful.

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  11. I'm late to this post, catching up after a weekend away. I do hope your daughter's luggage has been delivered to her by now. What a hassle!
    We always travel with carry-ons (other than when we lived overseas and then the mountain of luggage was daunting, but we never had a late or misplaced piece.) When I went to Europe with my mother and sister a few years ago, I suggested carry on luggage for all of us. When I met them at the hotel in Vancouver, they were sitting in the lounge waiting for me. As I walked up with my rolling carry on, they looked at each other and said, "she wasn't kidding." Their large checked luggage caused no end of trouble on the Paris metro.

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    1. That large luggage really does make it hard to get around on the Metro! And it's not much fun trying to get down train station stairs and across to the right platform in time either!
      As for the bag, no luck. And after this long.....

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