‘It’s a mess and I’ve never seen anything like it’: Global lost luggage crisis escalates

OWhen Jenn Choi packed her and her family’s bags, she feared the worst. After hearing horror stories of checked airline luggage missing permanently, she bought tracking devices for her suitcases to ensure she wouldn’t have to rely on an understaffed aviation industry. criticism in the face of what could be its worst collapse in history.

Lo and behold, the three bags containing the belongings of the self-help coach, her husband and their one-year-old child were left almost 10,000 km (6,200 miles) in Germany when they arrived in Cancun, the Mexico last week.

“Our bags still haven’t been found and we’ll be without them for at least a week,” she said. “I feel like it’s part of the journey these days because it’s becoming so common. Many people here in Mexico are on vacation without their bags. It’s a mess and I’ve never seen anything like it.

Many families are taking their first vacation in three years this summer due to the pandemic, during which time airlines and airports have embarked on drastic cost cuts as demand wanes. As passengers return, the amount of baggage lost by airlines increases. In April, nearly six bags per 1,000 passenger checked bags were at least temporarily lost by US airlines.

Jenn Choi with her son.
Jenn Choi with her son. Photography: The Guardian

It marked a 67% increase from the same month in 2021 after nearly 30,000 flights to, from and within the United States were also canceled this summer. The rate of mishandled baggage worldwide is also on the rise: up 24% last year, with 8.7 suitcases per 1,000 international passengers who do not arrive on time.

Claims for blocked baggage jumped 30% compared to 2019, according to insurer Mapfre SA, and amid high rates of delayed arrivals, some airports are reportedly seeing a tenfold increase in the number of bags arriving on the wrong flights . Elsewhere, some global baggage shipping services say they have seen demand almost triple month-on-month as travelers choose not to check their bags.

Some call it the summer of lost baggage and there are daily stories of baggage claims swelling as suitcases get caught up in an ever-widening treadmill-like vortex.

The deepening global crisis shows no signs of abating. Emirates on Thursday said the industry was facing ‘airmageddon’ and pointed to an ‘incompetent’ London Heathrow airport after capping daily passenger numbers and urging airlines to stop selling airline tickets. plane unimpeded.

Heathrow hit back, following disarray at the airport when hundreds of bags were lost were dumped in a room for further processing after the system has been submerged. He blamed the lack of ground staff employed by airlines to check in passengers and organize luggage and suggested that carriers “put profit before safe and reliable passenger travel”. Similar lost bag cemeteries have been seen in New York, Washington DC, Dublin, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

Heathrow has invented a new game where you have to climb piles of luggage to find yours. pic.twitter.com/SgBpwMpQnH

— Christian Mitchell (@MitchellCMM) July 14, 2022

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Some airlines have a policy of offsetting expenses for replacement clothing and footwear only if the traveller’s baggage takes longer than three weeks to return. “Nobody answers the phone,” says Pascal Sigg, whose round-trip flight from Zurich to Portland last week was hit by delays that forced them to spend the night in London. “We are on a seven week trip to the United States with two and four year olds and we are not sure if we should buy what we need. This mess is only getting worse every hour.

Because of the systemic problems, Sigg, who is a doctoral student and editor, feels that airlines “have decided to sacrifice luggage for people to make their trips.” But people’s suitcases include items that have “enormous” sentimental and economic value, he adds. Automated helplines provide few answers and would-be tourists are left in Kafkaesque nightmares as vacations across the world are ruined.

The global fiasco could apparently have been avoided, with a rebound in demand for air travel in the summer long predicted. But after tens of thousands of pilots, cabin crew and airport workers around the world were laid off due to pandemic bans on overseas travel, the industry has stepped up. time to rehire.

In Australia, the main airline, Qantas, is said to lose one in 10 bags at the regional hub in Sydney. It is suffering from a shortage of baggage handlers after outsourcing around 1,700 jobs during the pandemic in a move later ruled illegal. There are also strikes in Europe because of working conditions and low wages.

In what he called a ‘creative’ step to reunite people with their belongings, Delta – which reported quarterly profit of $735million last week – flew a baggage plane filled with 1,000 lost bags from the UK to its hub in Detroit. But there remain thousands of people still far from their valuables, essentials and heirlooms amid a year-long shambles.

“I waited three hours at the baggage carousel until the wee hours of the morning for an airline staff member to finally arrive and tell me that there was not even a trace of my bag on the system,” said Deborah Sergeant, who flew from Mexico City to Lima with Cuba in February. “She said ‘We’ll get him and you better stay here in Lima for a few weeks so we can send him to you more easily if he shows up’. But then I never heard anything.

The sergeant believes that her gigantic suitcase contained $1,500 worth of goods and was badly out of pocket after not being compensated and having to buy a brand new wardrobe, along with many other items. “I have traveled with it all my life,” adds the teacher.

YouTuber Connor Colquhoun and his crew lost $50,000 after two bags of filming gear went missing between Heathrow and Los Angeles in June. “Once we landed, they didn’t tell us anything,” he said. “We tried to contact the airline several times almost every day and heard nothing. It’s impossible to talk to a real human being.

Huge congratulations to @AirLingus, you have constantly innovated in the bag loss industry. Now, with this breakthrough, they will also lose you on the Mystery Flight. pic.twitter.com/1VKZ93rRNl

— Connor (@CDawgVA) July 13, 2022

\n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/CDawgVA/status/1547093198056869888?s=20&t=iNly1WI80xv-2Z416aOFOA”,”id”:”1547093198056869888″,”hasMedia: false,”role”: ” inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”bde0044e-d5da-43bc-a913-6015f09904df”}}”/>

When bags eventually appear, in some cases they are beaten and broken. Social media attention is helping some people get refunds from often unresponsive helplines. Others have their luggage taken home, but only after days of anxiety.

American tourist Donna O’Connor, who traveled to Ireland on June 30 to scatter her late parents’ ashes on a family farm, was separated from her bag containing them after a nine-hour delay. “I want them here, that’s why I brought them with me,” she told the Irish Independent.

O’Connor flew into Dublin Airport every day for a week this month, instead of heading west as planned, desperately trying to find the bag containing the precious remains of her parents. “I’ve literally seen over a thousand cases,” she added. After little communication from Air Canada, she suddenly received a bittersweet call that they had returned the ashes to her Chicago home. “It doesn’t help me having him back in Illinois,” O’Connor said. “I just feel emotionally drained.”

Partly thanks to advances in technology, the number of missing bags has fallen over the past 10 years, but in 2019 it jumped amid a surge in demand and seven bags per 1,000 were mishandled by airlines American airlines in June of this year.

According to the data, levels of “mishandled” baggage this year have generally not exceeded pre-pandemic rates until April. But Marc Casto, an Americas travel agency executive for Flight Center Travel Group, expects the summer’s data to reflect a worsening situation.

“A significant number of people will not be reunited with their luggage; most likely more than at any time in history,” he says. “The industry faces more challenges than in any of my 25 years in the business. Every segment of the travel industry is grappling with labor shortages, gate agents and from baggage handlers to flight attendants and airline pilots.

Only when airlines and airports engage in an extensive process of hiring and training staff will the problems ease significantly, he predicts. “I sincerely advise all travelers to avoid checking their bags if possible,” warns Casto. Other experts said to mitigate risk by buying tracking devices and taking photos of valuables inside the bag to help with any future insurance claims.

In news that will allay the concerns of some holidaymakers, Mapfre SA said on Monday that most lost luggage ends up being returned to its owners, according to analysis of the claims they have received so far. On the same day, Choi had still not received any good news from the airline. But she had noticed on her GPS tracker that her son’s bag had arrived in Mexico.

“We’ve already gone shopping for the essentials,” she says. “And we may still be without our luggage but we remain full of love and gratitude for this holiday.”


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