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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.