I have sentimental items in my lost bag. Can you help me reach Airberlin?

After Ellen Van den Broeck’s flight on Airberlin is delayed, she’s bumped to a later flight, which is also delayed. When she finally lands in Berlin, her luggage doesn’t land with her. Now what?

Question: I had a flight from Düsseldorf to Berlin that was first delayed an hour and a half, and then, while boarding, they told me I was “on standby” and had to wait. In the end, they said the plane was full, and I couldn’t board. No further explanation was given.

I told the boarding staff that my luggage, for which I paid 40 euros extra, was on the plane. They told me to go get it at Lost and Found. When I finally managed to find Lost and Found, there was an immensely long waiting line. And since I had a meeting in Berlin, I wanted to take the next possible flight, so I asked somebody from the staff again if I had to pick up my luggage there.

He told me to go first to Airberlin, and they would tell me what to do next. There they told me I would get a refund of 250 euros and [be] booked on another flight. They assured me I didn’t have to go back to Lost and Found because my luggage would be transferred automatically to my next flight.

This flight was again delayed, which also meant I missed my meeting. But the worst is that my luggage didn’t arrive with me in Berlin. At the baggage service, they told me they had no clue were my luggage was, they couldn’t trace it in the system. And that it could take up to four days to recover it, if they recovered it at all.

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So since I couldn’t do anything in Berlin without my luggage, and was all shaken up because of all the emotions, I decided not to stay in Berlin.

I still haven’t heard anything about my luggage. I have been filing complaints and trying to contact the lost and found desk in Berlin by telephone and email. I never can get through on the phone, and there’s no response by email.

I really would appreciate it enormously if you could manage to find out where my luggage is located. It has great emotional value to me, there are some personal items inside from my mother, who passed away when I was a child. — Ellen Van den Broeck, Maaseik, Belgium

Answer: I’m sorry to hear what a frustrating and emotionally wrenching experience this has been for you. Air travel in today’s environment can be challenging, especially for those who are not-so-frequent flyers.

Europe was in the forefront when a new generation of budget airlines appeared on the scene, which has led to much lower fares. But in the race to compete, these airlines have often made low fares a priority over customer service. Your experience, and the difficulty you had reaching Airberlin, clearly illustrates this new reality. But the lessons you learned here can help other travelers.

Lesson #1: Airlines routinely overbook flights. You mentioned in your correspondence with us that an Airberlin representative told you they often deliberately overbook. And as your case also illustrates, flights are often delayed. The lesson here is to not assume that you’re going to arrive at your destination at the originally scheduled time, and plan a meeting based on that assumption.

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Lesson #2: On occasion, checked luggage gets lost — sometimes for days, sometimes forever. Don’t pack anything irreplaceable in your checked luggage. Or anything to which you might need immediate access, like medication. Make a list of everything that’s in your checked bags, or take pictures of the contents in case you need to make a claim.

Lesson #3: Don’t panic when something goes wrong. Since you’d missed your meeting, you decided to return home immediately. And, as it turned out, Airberlin had found your bag and arranged for it to be delivered to the address where you told them you’d be staying in Berlin. So your quick return home further delayed its return to you.

Many of the issues you described in your correspondence with us involved the difficulty you had communicating with the airline. Different employees gave you different information, there were long lines at baggage claim, and your attempts to phone or email the airline were frustratingly difficult. Such is the reality of modern budget air travel. Which is why we have a section on our advocacy website dedicated to that problem. There you’ll find Airberlin executive contacts, who may have been able to help, along with similar information for the rest of the travel industry.

I was pleased to hear that your bag eventually found its way home, (albeit with a scarf missing, you told us), and that you were compensated for the flight delay. Fortunately, this was an intra-Europe flight, and European Union regulations provide better protections for passengers that experience flight delays than do regulations in the U.S. You should also be eligible for compensation for the scarf, and we urge you to be patient with the process.

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It’s a good idea for travelers to arm themselves with detailed contact information for any air carrier they are about to fly. In fact, wise travelers can find a world of information at our advocacy site to help them be better prepared, should anything go wrong.

Dale Irvin

Dale Irvin is a semi-retired writer and editor, now living in south Florida after three years roaming around North America in an RV. You can read about those adventures at fabulousfifthwheel.com.

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