Foiled by the disappearing gate check act


Zachary Matson boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Chicago earlier this month with his Apple laptop in his carry-on baggage. Unfortunately, the flight crew informed him that his bag was too full and they would need to check it.

He never received a claim ticket from the airline employee who took his bag, and when he arrived and waited at baggage claim, his bag never appeared. He filed an incident report with Southwest the same day.

This is a good opportunity to clarify that while I’m well-known for advocating the use of carry-on luggage, you should always use a bag that’s small enough to meet size regulations.

And use common sense. Even though I love maximizing the space in my carry-on, it’s pretty obvious you’ve crammed too much stuff in there if the front is protruding noticeably, your bag tips over when you let go of the handle, or otherwise looks like it is about to burst at the seams.

If any of these signs are present, you’ll likely have to gate check.

I also think it should go without saying that you should always ensure you get a claim ticket.

I digress. Matson’s mother is actually the one who reached out to us for help, and she says his lost laptop is required for his classes at Columbia College in Chicago. She describes his bag as black, carry-on size, with a large “X” on the back, no name on the luggage, and US Bank paperwork inside. The paperwork is for a new joint checking account with both her and her son’s names on the forms. She also understandably notes that there is no way she can afford to replace a $1,700 computer.

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She says she has been writing to the Southwest email address provided on our company contacts page, but the notes keep bouncing back. She says she also reached out to Southwest via Facebook — both publicly and through private messages.

I’ll gloss over the fact that a senior in college is relying on his mother to chase down his lost bag, and stress over the cost of his computer, as well as the mention of the new joint checking account. At the end of the day, these details don’t matter. What matters is another airline customer is in a tenuous situation caused by disappearing luggage. And that’s why we do what we do.

So, what should Matson and his mother do?

First of all, Matson’s mother unfortunately did not provide us with additional information regarding follow-up calls to Southwest to check on the incident report her son filed the day the luggage was lost, so we can’t be sure what specific communications have come from the company regarding the status of the luggage.

If she has indeed hit endless roadblocks and received incomplete information, we recommend reaching out to the specific executive contacts listed on our company contacts page. It sounds like she only reached out to the general email address provided (and we thank her for letting us know about the bouncebacks).

It’s been three weeks since the bag was lost. Southwest policy states that if a bag has not been located within 5 days of filing an initial report with the Baggage Service Office (which Matson’s mother says he did immediately), there is a form to fill out to file a property loss claim. This should definitely be Matson’s (or, likely his mother’s) next step.

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In the event that Matson’s mother has exhausted all resources available to her, or receives no response to her submission of a property loss claim, should we step in?

Should we advocate for Zachary Matson?

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Heather Dratler

Lover of all things travel and hospitality, both from a personal and professional standpoint. A PR pro by day, I’ve represented a wide variety of clients in the travel industry since 2008. Sharing my passion for and knowledge of travel makes me happy. Cornell University graduate. Follow me on Twitter @HeatherLori7.

  • Éamon deValera

    “At the end of the day, these details don’t matter” Perhaps they should have been omitted.

    The family should check their homeowners insurance as personal property such as computers are covered under coverage C. There may be a limit to the coverage, but $1700 should be covered especially if one considers a deductible. It is important to note that this was personal rather than business property as business property may be covered for significantly less (the insurance company assumes that the business will insure it’s property as well).

  • ctporter

    Lessons learned! When booking online for yourself, we need to READ all the rules, including sizing of carry on baggage, then be PRO-ACTIVE, imagine what can go wrong and do what you can to alleviate issues, for example, put your CONTACT INFO inside and OUTSIDE of all carry on bags, unless you are willing to put that under the seat in front of you. NEVER carry medications, electronics such as laptops, E-readers, music players, etc. in a bag that cannot fit under the seat in front of you unless you are a frequent flyer that boards very early in the process Pay attention to all those announcements at each flight from the gate agent saying the flight is full and your bags might not have room for them by the time you board even if of legal size . I wonder how much of the travel now days is booked online without a travel agent, and thus how many fliers are not aware of the issues of acting as their own travel agent?

  • Jodi Bannerman Bragg

    Those details may not be as pertinent for the travel portion of this case, but they DO matter. Here is a 20+-year-old acting helpless, making poor decisions, relying on his mother to solve this problem and not valuing his property. If he paid for the computer the first time, he would have taken it out of his checked luggage. This kid has been dealt a hard lesson and his mother should step aside and let him learn it.

  • travelfly

    Always carry a fold up bag or shopping bag and offload valuable items, like medications, electronics, paperwork, jewelry, ect. into that alternative bag, Don’t let a gate agent rush you until you are sure that you have the stuff you can’t afford to lose, Alternatively, Fedex your stuff.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    How did this Kid get into College? He handed over his $1700 computer + clothing and personal items with NO claim check? He needs to get a job to make the money to get another laptop. (notice I didn’t say new) Mommie didn’t lose it, HE did. He’s in College, let him figure it out. He could have easily taken the laptop out of the bag. Bet he didn’t lose his phone.

  • Jim Zakany

    If his bag was gate checked, why didn’t he wait for on the jetway?

  • cscasi

    Good ideas. Also be certain when the airline requires to gate check your bag, you get the receipt/claim check for it so you can prove the carrier checked it, when your bag goes missing and is not found. Otherwise, you really have no proof you gate checked the bag. Further, having the bag tag receipt copy/claim check will help the airline in locating your lost bag.

  • Carchar

    There are many “kids” who get into college with no problem, but who do not have the “street smarts” or social skills to match their academic abilities. Parents may be reluctant to admit this about their children. Think of the absent minded professor, but without the comic relief. Special life proctoring is needed to attain these skills and some take longer to really “get it.” Sometimes, you don’t know who they are until something like this happens. I have a couple of grandchildren I can see being like this when they get older. They will do well in college, but, if they travel, they will probably have to do so with a written set of explicit instructions.

  • cowboyinbrla

    And that assumes they are homeowners. If they’re renters without renters’ insurance (or a renter’s policy that doesn’t cover travel losses) that’s a useless suggestion.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Many airlines consider gate-checked standard luggage to be just like any other checked bag and send it automatically to the luggage carousel. The only thing most will send back to the jetway are things like strollers, walkers, etc – personal assistance devices.

  • Éamon deValera

    Not having insurance if you are a homeowner or a renter is unwise.
    Renters insurance is actually a type of homeowners insurance, HO-4. It has coverage for personal property, in fact it only covers personal property and liability.

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