Straight talk about the truly dismal state of airline baggage, and what it means to you

By | June 14th, 2010

To get an idea of how badly airlines might treat your luggage in the summer of 2010, consider the latest offer by The Stafford London by Kempinski. It’s called the “Baggage Emergency Response Squad.”

I’m not making this up.

The squad is on call 24 hours a day, so that when weary travelers step off the plane and walk to the baggage claim, only to find their luggage didn’t arrive with them — despite paying a significant checking fee — they have somewhere to turn. Obviously, the airlines aren’t doing the job.

Here’s what you get from the property’s veteran concierge:

1. Immediate First Aid – Upon arrival, guests receive their own “First Aid Kit.” These customized, complimentary packs are stocked with essential personal items and are tailored for both men and women.

2. Hostage Negotiations – While the guest is relaxing in the comfort of their suite, the squad will consult with the airlines on the guest’s behalf to ensure expedited arrival of the detained luggage.

3. Quick Cleanup – To ensure guests have a fresh start the next day, the squad can also provide fast, complimentary laundering of arrival clothes. Immediate shopping on behalf of the guest to replace necessary items such as a suit for the next’s day’s business meeting can also be arranged.

A little dramatic, don’t you think?

Perhaps not.

We could always got to the Transportation Department statistics on lost and misplaced luggage, but a few examples might illustrate the point better. Here’s one:

This is Richard Martin’s story of battling American Airlines unsuccessfully to receive reimbursement for a road bike that was broken beyond repair on a European flight last year.

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While waiting to board his plane he saw his bike box torn wide open on the JFK International runway tarmac. He immediately notified attendants on the plane, who contacted the crew on the ground. He was reassured by the American Airlines crew chief that his bike “looked a lot worst than it was” and that his bike was “fully inspected and is in perfect working order.”

As soon as I saw my bike at my final destination, I knew that I had been lied to. I expected to see a few dings in the bike but the frame was cracked through in multiple places and severely destroyed beyond repair. The only way that could have happened is if my bike had been run over.

Oh, by the way, among the major carriers, American performed the worst on the latest DOT report, with more than three lost-lost luggage incidents per 1,000. For the month of April, it “misplaced” 17,889 bags.

Maybe airlines know they won’t be able to safely transport your luggage.

Here’s what happened to Kim Usiak when she dropped off a friend at Miami International Airport on Friday.

They pulled out a new, one-page “declaration of responsibilities” (written in Portuguese) which they were now requiring passengers to sign.

We requested an English version but were told they had none. The basic translation of the document was that TAM was relinquishing all liability for baggage.

We told the ticket counter rep we disagreed and would not sign at which point she contacted a TAM supervisor.

The supervisor arrived and told us that if we did not sign the document she would instruct the ticket counter to remove our luggage from the plane. The supervisor was extremely rude and as I was about to open my iPhone to record the conversation so we could later file a complaint with the airline when I was told that they would contact the airport police and have us arrested if I did not put my phone away.

Usiak checked with a TSA supervisor and the police, both of which said TAM was wrong. But her friend signed the agreement, because she didn’t want to miss her flight.

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I’ve asked TAM to comment on the incident and will update this post when it responds.

What does all of this mean to you? When it comes to checked baggage, the less, the better.

Airlines lose luggage. Given a chance, they’ll lose yours this summer.

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