The last time I saw the white corrugated cardboard box with the fragile stickers pasted on it, was at the U.S. Airways check-in counter in Mexico City. My wife and I had just arrived from Acapulco with Mexicana Airways and had changed our carrier to U.S. Airways to complete our journey to Seattle via Phoenix. Once we landed in Phoenix, we were once again directed to pickp our checked-in luggage from the carousel. However, to our dismay, there was no sign of the duty-free white box. The friendly woman from airport security mentioned that there is an occasional delay as luggage is checked before it is allowed to get loaded on the next flight. She assured us that our box should be on our plane to Seattle.
Once our flight arrived in Seattle we waited as the last piece of luggage looped around the carousel. The Transportation Security Administration (T.S.A.) official informed us that that was the last piece of luggage from our flight. Alas, our white cardboard box had not arrived. The gentleman directed us to the U.S. Airways Baggage Claims office that was surprisingly and conveniently right there next to the carousel. My wife and I informed the representative about our lost box and we filled out a claim form.
After arriving home we received a phone call every day for the first week from the Central Baggage Office in Phoenix, Arizona, keeping us apprised as to the progress on their tracing efforts to find our lost box. We were advised to fill out the damaged or lost property form that we had received in Seattle, and mail it in to them.
Ten days after the form was mailed I phoned the Phoenix Central Baggage Office and spoke with a baggage specialist there. They still had not received the form, but called the next day to confirm that they had received it. There was still no news about our lost box, however the trace for it was still active.
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Mike Adams, the Baggage Specialist, at the time, had been working for U.S. Airways for over a year and his job entailed calling customers about their lost or damaged baggage claims, coding and determining miscoding of claims. He had recently completed training for a secondary tracing program. I wanted to get some answers about the steps they take to track down a lost piece of luggage.
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“After the claim is filed,” Adams said, “we use the World Tracer System (used by over 300 member airlines) to look for the bag by name, address, the type of bag and contents to see if there are any matches on hand. If there is a match and the bag is sitting at the terminal, two people open the bag and input the contents of the bag into the system. All unclaimed luggage is held for five days and then sent to Charlotte, North Carolina. Identification tags are checked at the warehouse and the property claims form is updated if there is a match. If the piece of luggage is not there then a secondary trace is done that checks with other airlines and connections to see if the lost piece was sent elsewhere.
How long will they continue to look for a lost piece of luggage? Mike says a minimum of four weeks, unless they are playing catch up because of storms, and then it takes longer.
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Do baggage handlers or other employees steal baggage or boxes? “Yes,” Adams admits. “There is some theft in the industry. The theft is usually by members of the Transportation Security Administration.” Consequently, the airlines will set up sting operations to find the culprit or culprits and solve the problem. Adams revealed that in our case, the white cardboard shipping box was a red flag. Thieves particularly target those items. “To solve that problem in the future,” advised Mike, “and take the temptation away, just buy a cheap suitcase and put the alcohol in that.” That was simple and sound advice that would have saved us a lot of headache.
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If the box isn’t found, how will the claim be settled? Mike said that a letter with a cheque in the amount for our lost alcohol would probably be sent to us. He was half right. We got the letter from U.S. Airways, but instead of a cheque, we got two $50.00 travel vouchers that were valid for one year from the date of issue.
From every experience, whether good or bad, there is something to be learned. Firstly, my wife and I have decided that we will only buy items that we can safely pack into our suitcases. Secondly, we will mark our bags with unique identification, such as coloured stripes, tape or labels that stand out from the myriad of look alike suitcases. Thirdly, we will put our names and address somewhere on the inside of the suitcase or bag to make baggage specialists like Mike Adams’ job much easier in reuniting lost luggage with their owners.
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Following these three steps may not guarantee that you will be reunited with your bags at the carousel, but they will certainly improve the odds. Happy Traveling!