My Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg.

My Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg

I am one lucky guy. I have never had a bag lost by an airline before. Well, before my recent trip to Hamburg, Germany for Airbus Innovations Days. “Um, you are going to tell us a story about your bag David?” Heck yes; stick with me here.

I try not to check my bag. Ever. I have it down to a science how to pack my little rollaboard, get it up in the bin, and call it good.  So why did I give in? A few reasons. First off, it was free. Secondly, I had a 55-minute layover in Frankfurt and knew I was going from one side of the airport to the other. Rolly McRollerson was going to slow me down. I figured “why not?” Yeah, my bad.

My Condor Boeing 767 at Seattle - Photo: David Parker Brown

My Condor Boeing 767 in Seattle – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

I remember clearly handing my bag to the ticket agent in Seattle, her placing a pink “priority” tag on him, and off my bag went. And then yadda yadda yadda, I landed in Frankfurt. I hauled across the airport thinking I made the right call checking my bag, and got to my gate to see my flight was 30 minutes delayed. Heh. I was already on a tight schedule. I needed to get to Hamburg, to the hotel, and then to a dinner hosted by Airbus. I didn’t want to be rude to my hosts.

Then, I rode on my A320 and after I was sitting at the carousel in Hamburg waiting for my bag to arrive. Round and round bags go, mine was surely a no-show (yes, I am proud of myself for that rhyme). Now what? Seriously. I write about airlines and I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to do next. Isn’t there a counter or something for me to go to? Surely there had to be — but would they speak English?

Get your tracing pencils ready!

Get your tracing pencils ready!

I started walking and I saw a sign that said “Gepäckermittlung – Baggage tracing.” Either I found my place or this is where you trace around bags. The line was only four people, so this should not take long. Ha. Each passenger took 15-20 minutes to process and I couldn’t understand why until it was my turn.

First he took my ticket and bag stub and typed around in his computer. Took a few minutes before he could tell me “it is not here, and we do not know where it is.” Sweet. He had me write my hotel address and phone number on scratch paper. While he entered that into his system he had me fill out a form, which asked most of the same data. Then we repeated this again with different information. I got to pick out the type and color that looked the most like my bag. It felt like I was picking out a criminal from random mug shots. He printed some stuff off, gave me an envelope, and told me to call a number to get the bag’s status. I asked about the website on the form and he said “no, the phone number.” Okay then.

Here’s the thing. I am a pretty laid back guy and I try to think of these little setbacks as a life adventure… a story to tell later (what you are reading now). I also realized that running AirlineReporter, I probably should have this lost bag experience to know what it’s like (for science). So, I promised myself that I would ask no special favors or use my contacts to try and get my bag back quicker. That I would follow the system, keep a smile on my face (or try), and move forward.

I really love Hamburg.

I really love Hamburg

As I left baggage claim and started to make my way to the hotel, reality started to set in. I had one shirt, one undershirt, one pair of underwear, one pair of jeans, two socks, and one pair of shoes as clothes. I had 2.5 days of non-stop professional media activities. If this happened in many other countries it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. First, I wasn’t going to be able to buy new clothes, because things do not stay open late in Germany. My hotel was right in the middle of the shopping district, but they were closed by 6:00 pm and open the earliest at 8:00 am. With my schedule (and the fact I would spend most of my time isolated at Finkenwerder Airport), I was not getting new clothes. Secondly, there are some countries where wearing jeans to a media event is not a big deal. Not in Germany. It is very formal and this is why I made sure to pack my sport coat. One silver-lining out the deal… I packed my camera, laptop, and chargers in my backpack. I didn’t have to worry about them getting stolen and I could still do my job.

The train station was kinda cool. My blue shirt liked it.

The train station was kinda cool. My blue shirt liked it.

I got to the hotel and explained that my bag was lost and asked if they had any toiletries. They told me that there was soap and shampoo in the room. Hmm. I asked about toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, etc. He looked perplexed, searched a few drawers, and said “no.” Now… I can make wearing the same clothes for 2.5 days work, but I cannot do it without toiletries. I asked if there was a drug store or anything open. Only one; the main train station… a 25-minute walk. It was a nice and warm evening, so I strolled through Hamburg (beautiful city and I love it), and made it to the drug store. Everything was in German, so I did my best to identify what I needed and made it back to the hotel.

I called the “bag status” line and it rang, then a woman picked up the phone in German and I said I wanted to check in on my bag. She said something in German back and then I was on what I think was hold. After 20 minutes of weird beeps, I gave up and decided to check the status website. I logged in and it pretty much said, “Bag Status: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

Then I started what would become a nightly tradition: sink washing. If you have never done this before at a hotel, you need to travel more. Use either shampoo or shower gel in the sink (or mix the two if you are feeling crazy) and get to work. Could I have used the hotel’s laundry service? Sure. But what if they lost my stuff? Yea… wasn’t going to risk that. Imagine the looks showing up in my hotel robe and slippers — balla! Really my favorite part of sink laundry is hoping that stuff is dry in the morning (spoiler: it never is) and then having to use hair dryer.

There is nothing quite like showing up to a media presentation, with 150 colleagues from around the world, and being the only (and I mean only) guy wearing jeans. What could I do? Own it. “Yea, I am an American blogger, I do what I want, I don’t follow rules.” Actually, I kept apologizing to people and letting them know my situation. But you know what’s better? Showing up for the second day — in the same clothes. Yeah, I was building a brand.

I kept logging into the website a few times per day and got the same “we dunno, check back later” message. Then my entire world changed. It showed that my bag had been found and was on his way to Hamburg. Yee-haw! It didn’t tell me what happened to him, and at that point I just hoped he was okay! I got the update late afternoon, the day before I left, so it wasn’t going to help me out too much. But hell, to have a new set of clothes for the flight home = amazing.

When I got to the hotel, I stopped by the front desk and asked if my bag had arrived — he had not. I gave them a heads up and went up to my room. It showed that my bag was in Hamburg and would be delivered “when it’s delivered.” I waited. Nothing. I checked again. Nothing. I was hurting to stay awake, and at midnight I fell asleep. When my alarm went off at 4:00 am, I did my routine of drying my clothes, reluctantly putting them on, and heading downstairs to check out.

I asked again if my bag arrived and the guy had a surprise look on his face. “Wait are you Mr. Brown?” With jetlag I actually had to stop and think for a second… “Why yes I am.” He said that they came by with my bag in the middle of the night. Awesome! Then he told me it was refused and sent back. Say what?

Here’s the thing. I go by “David Parker Brown,” where “Parker” is my middle name (“David Brown” is sort of boring right?). Often, people put “Parker-Brown” as my last name. Other times it is just “Parker” and my real last name goes off to name heaven. That’s what happened here. I was “David Parker” in the hotel’s computers, so when they couldn’t find a “David Brown” staying there off my bag went back to the airport. So close! Now, why neither the delivery driver nor the hotel called my cell phone number that was in the system, I shall never know. I kept on smiling and made my way to the airport.

Yay my bag is heading back to Seattle -- maybe.

Yay my bag is heading back to Seattle — maybe.

I got to the airport with enough time to see if my bag was there, but no one was around the tracing office. Then a woman showed up by the counter and I asked if they were open. She said no, and I figured that was it. But she was very nice, asked what was up, I explained, and she opened the storage room to let me have a look. Unfortunately, my bag was not there. She looked it up in her computer and saw he was still with the delivery company. She tried to call, but they weren’t open yet (of course), but she said she could help me get him back to Seattle. Deal! I still felt 50/50 I would ever see my bag again.

So I got on my plane and yadda yadda (who stinks in here?) yadda, I landed in Seattle — home, where I had plenty of clothes. But bag’s adventures were not over…

My bag ended up flying X more miles than I did - Image: gcmap.com

My bag ended up flying more miles than I did – Image: gcmap.com

Once my bag arrived back in to Seattle, he just sat there. Finally, the evening of the eighth day since I last saw my bag, I got a call from someone trying to deliver him, but I was out of town. He asked permission if he could leave the bag at my house. I was cool with that; I live in a safe place, and didn’t want him going back to the airport (plus I would be home in a few hours).

While still on the phone with him, I realized he was at the wrong house. I described where to go. Then he went to the wrong house again. Finally, he was at the right house and left my bag. I gave it 75% that my bag was actually there. But sure enough… there was Bag. No damage, nothing missing, he just looked happy to see me.

I am not sure who was happier to see who.

I am not sure who was happier to see who

Based on the seven (yes 7) different tags on my bag, I think I figured out his trip: Seattle to Frankfurt on Condor; to Hamburg on Lufthansa; to Frankfurt on Lufthansa; to Vancouver on Lufthansa; to Victoria on Air Canada (no idea why there); and to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. The fun part is all the tags had “EXPEDITE BAGGAGE – RUSH” on them. Would hate to see the routing for “NORMAL SPEED.”

Can I seek compensation from the airline (not sure which one)? Yeah. Will I? I am not sure. I got my bag. And I walked away with an interesting experience and story. The airline business is complicated and stuff happens. Of course, it is much easier writing that on my computer now versus dealing with it at the time.

For the blue shirt that I wore for four days straight, yeah, I still have it but it will be a while before either of us are ready to be seen together again.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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30 Comments
JL Johnson

David, I was anxiously awaiting this story to post. In true DPB form you made me LOL at least twice and taught me a few things. I have long wondered what the Parker Brown thing was about: Solved. I enjoyed following along in real-time and the piece is just as fun. Thank you for taking the light-hearted approach and making this entertaining. One piece of feedback: You really should have been wearing the blue shirt for the reunion photo. That would have been epic. Rolly McRollerson, FTW.

JL

Andrew J Rice

Nice story! Here’s a sink clothes washing tip: once you rinse, roll up the garment in a towel and “press” it several times with your elbow, knee, foot, whatever. That’ll help speed up the drying process and by morning, you’ll have dry (or almost dry!) clothes!

Hey Andrew — that is good advice. I normally just wring them out, but then that causes my outer garments to be super wrinkled!

David | AirlineReporter

Andrew J Rice

Yeah, I can’t take credit. I learned it from another experienced traveler but I use it often. I hear you on the wringing/wrinkles though! The towel roll method seems to help cut down the wrinkles.

And it seems that every time that I need to sink wash — the room has no iron. Sure, can get one from the front desk, but #lazy.

David | AirlineReporter

I know what happened to your bag. The supervising IPA hag stole it! Glad you got it back!
-C.

Entertaining story. Good you got your bag back eventually. As a woman I’m extremely paranoid this will happen to me (esp. overseas) and it’ll be the end of the world. But I’ve been lucky thus far during my travels, my baggage has never been lost (the horror!) 🙂

Hey Ardis,

I made a good 35 year run. Although in the last 10 I have barely checked my bag. Even if I need to do it again in the future, toiletries are riding with me!

David | AirlineReporter

Phoenix

> “Bag Status: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

This left me in stitches. Another awesome post as usual and good to know someone didn’t chuck your bag overboard into the Atlantic.

That was the best way to describe how I saw their status :).

And putting positive bag energy out there, got me my bag back, so I am good. Although if he swam for six months to shore, now that would be an epic story!

David | AirlineReporter

Hey DPB, Have you ever had other problems associated with your the use of your middle name? If so, maybe you should think about discontinuing that practice. I can see where you might think that what you want is a simple enough thing, however it can lead to problems a la Hamburg. I agree that to most people it seems a no-brainer, but obviously not to everyone in all cultures and languages. Why try to change the world to fit your circumstance? When, instead by picking your battles, you let this one go and have your bag waiting for you at baggage claim. Just this humble. three decade plus airline gate agent’s two cents.

Hey Tony,

Well, in the 35 years I have had my name (and really the 20 I have used all three), there have been very few issues with it. Actually, I think this was the biggest thing.

I find that having an easy to remember, unique name, helps a lot in networking and having people remember you. Although that can backfire :).

David | AirlineReporter

Nurse Traveler

Best post I’ve read anywhere in a long time. Glad you got your bag back. And, a hell of a story to tell, too.

Looks like a typical northsound fireplace in the background 🙂

Hey!

Glad you enjoyed the story (and fire place).

David | AirlineReporter

Lindsay

Thanks for a great article David. I was torn between laughing and crying! Have you had any offers for the movie rights yet?

I have been checking-in baggage on all my flights during a huge amount of travel over 45 years and only parted company with my baggage once: Qantas business class. Qantas were most efficient and had my bag waiting for me when I woke the next morning. I must have been very lucky!

I am impressed with your patience and tolerance throughout this episode. I couldn’t have resisted calling higher levels in LH or DE to get some action. As for your hotel’s moronic actions in sending back your bag, I would have expected much better from a Sofitel property. Maybe your reactions were understandably moderated by your business class travel and accommodation being provided by Airbus, if my guess is correct??

Keep up the good work.

Hey Lindsay,

Actually, when a non-airline is picking up the bill, I will be just as harsh on the airline and/or hotel. However, with this story, I didn’t want to make it about all the screw ups, but more of this “shit happens,” and try to keep smiling. I knowingly left the Sofitel name in the image, if people were curious. Mistakes happen and I was happy how they handled it in the morning. I didn’t mention in the story that they took my bag’s information and said they would call on my behalf to see what they could do to get my bag home.

That said, I was giving my bag 10 days to get home. If not, then I was going to start making phone calls and this story might have had a different tone :).

David | AirlineReporter

Greg Weinstein

When you first reported your bag was missing they should have given you an overnight kit with essentials such as toothpaste and deodorant. That is standard procedure.

Hey Greg,

I would have thought so, but me nor the others in line (who did speak German) got kits. I was also told that hotels should have them, but again they did not. Luckily I did have my toothbrush from my Condor flight to use until I was able to upgrade.

David | AirlineReporter

Parker West

Why do the airlines put so little care into the processes they use to track bags? We all have horror stories, some of us have many. Mine are a little more bizarre than most. DELTA- PHX-ORD via SLC My brown fabric and leather Hartman bags come out of the carousal covered with black sooty-greasy something. Agent says “No, couldn’t have been our fault, we got nothing that would do that”. I asked if they would have checked bags in this condition to which he replied: “Hell no, the stuff would get all over other bags”. I expected an ah-ha moment as he connected the clean bags at check-in vs the bags as returned, I was disappointed. I was able to empty my bags at the hotel return them to the airport to be cleaned. A week later I returned, my bags had been sent directly to PHX after cleaning, left with my neighbor.
Then we have the BIG product launch meeting at DFW’s Marriott. American got my bags to baggage claim, the Marriott guys put them in the van, the Bell Captain and staff, placed them in an empty room. I was told by check-in folks that when someone checked into room ???? that they would probably call the desk and advise them. Nobody checked into room ???? during my 4 night stay. No problem said the manager just get you some dress shirts, socks and whitey whites from our fully stocked shop. This I did, picking out items I would have otherwise never worn. The ties were so bad I wore the one I came in with, along with the same suit and shoes, Upon check-out, I found a $325 charge for shop purchases, what I was led to believe would be comp’ted due to their incompetence, was not. My bags were returned after I had been home 5 days, in perfect shape, just as packed so long ago. I could get into the time Continental on a PHL-DEN flight tore apart my large bag, so they placed my items inside those cardboard boxes they would place suit bags. To make it worse we landed in a blizzard, and it took 90 minutes to get my stuff. They had been sitting out in the storm, the boxes soaked, came apart and item by item my clothes, shoes, and shirts came out of the carousal. Some smart ass teenager watched this and commented: “what kind of f-ing idiot would pack like that?”

Hey Parker (nice first name),

Now that is a crappy story! At least my bag came home happy. The worse is if you had to pay a fee to have your bag abused!

David | AirlineReporter

Good read David ~ As a former TWA employee, the great miracle on this planet is .. ..

1) How 99% of all mail gets to where it has to go
2) How 99.9% of all baggage gets to where it has to go

The one and only time I had a bag missing overseas (and just once domestically) was arriving in Rome! After one day, my mum was so looking forward to buying new clothes only to find her bag in her hotel room the following afternoon ~ Talk about being sad to see your bag .. ..

THANKS A LOT BA ~ THANKS!

Hey Sammy,

I did have a moment of excitement thinking I could buy new shoes, sports jacket, and slacks (since mine are almost up for retirement anyhow). But didn’t get to use my clothes or buy new ones. At least I got my bag back… we have don a lot together :).

David | AirlineReporter

I assume you changed airlines on your trip, from DE to LH, based on what I can tell. Interline transfers (from one airline to another) account for a majority of delayed/lost luggage claims. I would never check a bag if i were changing carriers. Hopefully you won’t either now. 🙂

Hey Dave,

I am probably never checking again period. And yea, I get the complexities with the interline for sure, but many passengers will have no idea there is a change and really they won’t care. They will expect (demand) their bags. Or learn a hard lesson :).

David | AirlineReporter

Johann Stürken

Hi David,

I’m sorry that my hometown is so awful to get clothes at night. To be very honest even I wouldn’t know where to do that. I think the only ones would be those behind airport security. Hope next time you’re overe here you won’t be in need of them 😉

Hey Johann,

It is worth it — I love Hamburg :).

David | AirlineReporter

Mark Rodricks

Great stuff DPB. Although I have very few flying hours compared to you (or atleast I think I do), I’ve never once had luggage misplaced, touch wood. If I were in your place, I’d be throwing a sissy fit to get my luggage back. Maybe even ask LH to spot compensate me. Good on you to stick it out for the story’s sake.

Also, you have a new subscriber 🙂 Cheers!

OliverTwist

I have travelled for many years within Europe and US as well as around the world. Only twice in my life had my luggage gone missing. One was due to bad storm in Frankfurt that wreaked havoc on flight timetable (it took them three days to catch up with luggage backlog). Other was due to poorly scheduled transfer in Frankfurt (flying from Nuremberg to Madrid) during the early morning.

Now, here’s what got so interesting. I knew my luggage would not make it to my second leg of Nuremberg-Madrid flight since I had only thirty-minute window (due to first leg arriving late) at Frankfurt. At Madrid aeroport, a young German (who didn’t speak English well or Spanish at all) and I ended up without luggage. I had to help translate between young German and luggage tracing agent.

Each day I was in Madrid, my clothes soaked up so much sweat from heat and humidity. I had to buy a set of new clothes each day as well as buying the subway tickets to visit the aeroport. On the third day of my seven-day visit, I lost my shit with incessant finger-pointing, shoulder-shrugging, endless Kafkaesque transfer to other agents (typical of Mediterrean Europeans). One of the agents took me to a large room where many lost luggage are herded away. I instantly spotted my luggage amidst the mountains and shovelled other luggage out of the way so I could grab it. The agent yelled at me not to touch it, but I pushed him away and walked out of the room with my own luggage. I expected slightly to be manhandled by the security guards, but nothing happened.

The worst thing about the Madrid visit was the mandatory and separate ‘special fare’ for subway ride to the aeroport. Not even the Metro tickets are valid. I saw so many vituperative passengers queuing up at the vending machine to buy the ‘special fare’ so they could enter the aeroport. And it had to be in Euro coins. No credit or debit cards were allowed. Passengers cannot buy the ‘special fare’ anywhere outside the aeroport station. What a colossal fraud!

The second worst thing about the lost luggage was ‘not my problem’ attitude from Lufthansa and its code-sharing partner, Spanair. Lufthansa said Spanair was at fault while Spanair said Lufthansa was wrong. Thus, I never got compensation for lost luggage and extra clothes. I had a last laughter when Spanair went under a short time later.

Dude! Great story first. Really great! You made somegthing great out of what clearly was a bad experience.

Ok now I have to say this. How many years have we been flying around the world with luggage? The airlines, and I do mean all of them have not improved one spec with lost luggage.

Why? They don’t care.

Your ordeal was the same ordeal a thousand other people encountered in as many days I am sure and while its not obvious to think about I am sure there was allot of other people around the globe sink washing and waiting just like you.

Your right things happen. The thing happened when your bag did not follow you. Thats the understandable part of this, a mistake occured.

After that the airline did a sh1tty job helping you #Lufthansa. If I can send a box around the globe in 12 hours then there is a better way to locate a missing bag (8 days, what BS #Lufthansa).

By the way you should be calling out that hotel for not having toothpaste, I would love to know the name of that hotel, how embarrassing it would be for these idiots to face this truth on Facebook and Twitter?

Cheers!

I hope it does not make you feel bad if I tell you that there are a few shops in Hamburg that are open until 8 pm and sell clothes.

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