United and my luggage like each other so much they just could not depart. My 50 hour trip from Frankfurt to Seattle was quite horrible, but I cannot blame United for this. Neither volcanoes nor US immigration are under their control (the only thing I could blame was a complete lack of information on how to proceed after a missed connection). But what I can blame them for is the horrible way of dealing with luggage…
Stranded in Washington DC, United Airlines rebooked me on a flight to Seattle via San Francisco and when I arrived there with a mere 17h delay they had managed to lose my Backpack. It had neither come with me nor arrived before me. There is no human being to ask about what should be done, the United baggage service counters are all deserted and replaced by 2 terminals. I had my baggage tag scanned, and it could tell me that my luggage was "in transit" with a as of yet unknown location. Not knowing how long it would take, I checked the option that I would pick up my luggage and gave them a cell phone number I bought for this purpose. I was supposed to be contacted when the luggage was there.
When I checked the status (over the Internet) a few hours later, it was still in "unknown location" and I tried to call their luggage service number to get a drop off at my home arranged. Oh horror, another machine, a language recognition computer that asked me for my lost baggage identifier. I was supposed to spell it with common names so he could understand it. What common first name with an "X" does the US have, please? Back to the Internet, checking the "alpha", "bravo", "charlie" alphabet. No luck, after a few trials he gave up and had me say the city where I filed the lost luggage report. Either my non-native English is worse than I thought or the machine, after a few dozen trials he still did not get that I was shouting "Seattle" into my phone repeatedly (having done that in public space, I must have looked like a complete idiot to bystanders). Despite being a 1-1800 number, calling it from my prepaid cell from the bus was not free, and having spent about $10 on unsuccessful calls with the United luggage service machine, I gave up. After some search, I found a "luggage" contact form on the web and filled in a contact address at which the luggage should be dropped and went to sleep.
9 hours later, the Internet status told me the luggage had arrived and showed a "contact time frame". Which had already passed without anyone trying to contact me. Neither did the delivery address show up in the Internet status page. So I did the 2 hour trip to the airport this morning in order to fetch it. No human being at the baggage claim, and –oh horror– today the computer terminal did not even recognize my baggage tag anymore, neither could it find my lost luggage report when entering flight number, last name and all that. All it did was print out a sheet of paper, saying that it could not find my luggage report number and that I should ask an agent. Right, an agent. Who is where? There are no human beings anymore, and no signs where I could find some.
It took me quite a long time of searching in the airport terminal (2 floors up, somewhere) to find a United customer service counter (there are no signs pointing to it from anywhere). And after some waiting she looked in her computer to tell me that the luggage is already waiting in some room and went to fetch it for me. Only 56h after my departure was I reunited with my Rucksack!!! No one from United had ever tried to contact my on my contact cell phone number up to then and I had received no answer on my web contact form query.
I guess that I would have had the right to get reimbursement for the t-shirt and underwear I had to buy in order to have any clothes at all. But I am just so happy to have my luggage back, that I don’t want to bother with calling the luggage computer again and trying him to tell that I want my money back. I suppose that is the strategy United actively pursues with those lost luggage marathons.