After spending a week in sunny Cancun where the temperature was a balmy 88 degrees, my wife and I dreaded the thought of returning to New York where the temperature was 16 degrees with a wind chill factor making it feel like it was 10 degrees below zero.
The temperature in New York had gotten even colder since we left a week before and the weather report said a snow storm would be welcoming us back home. We were sure glad we had had the sense to wear our heavy shearling coats … they would definitely come in handy when the plane landed at JFK.
Upon arriving with winter coats in hand at the check out counter at the airport in Cancun, the airline representative told us we could not carry our coats on board and that we would have to put them in our luggage. Fortunately, we brought along a large Louis Vuitton garment bag that only carried my white linen suit and my wife’s silk cocktail dress … neither of which we even wore. It had plenty of room to squeeze in the two shearling coats. So we checked the luggage containing our coats and boarded the plane without a second thought.
The weather man had unfortunately been right and the snow began just about the time we landed. Since it was almost midnight and we were the only flight landing, going through custom and immigration were a piece of cake.
Our two suitcases were among the first off the carousel and we had no reason to believe the garment bag containing our coats would shortly follow. Fifteen minutes later, no garment bag arrived and airline staff told us all luggage was off the plane.
It was snowing steadily and about 10 degrees with a wind chill of minus twenty something below zero. All we wear wearing were shorts, sandals and T shirts. And to make matters worse, I had to go outside and hail a cab for the 45 minute ride home.
The airline personnel were of absolutely no help and gave us a toll-free number to call the following morning when their office would re-open.
I had to freeze and stand out in the cold and the snow trying to hail a cab. Finally a cruising limo driver came by who was willing to take us on the long ride up to Westchester County for a mere $200. We had no choice … he was the only alternative.
The next day we called the toll-free number the airline had given us. After hours of getting a busy signal, we finally got a human being who told us that our garment bag was “probably either in Israel or Boston”. When I queried how did it get there the person replied, “on our airline, of course, it was just a computer glitch.” I said I wanted to complain and the person gave me another phone number to call.
For the next week, we called this phone number and got either a busy signal or a recording that told us to leave a message and someone would contact us. We left numerous messages, but nobody returned our call.
About two weeks later, the doorbell rang one evening after dinner. A portly middle aged man with an Israeli accent was at the door with our tattered, torn and what appeared to be slashed Luis Vuitton garment bag with no clothing in it. “I’ve got your luggage,” he said.
“What happened to our two shearling coats, the linen suit and the cocktail dress?” I asked, trying to contain my anger.
“I don’t know where the clothing went, but at least you got your garment bag back,” the man flatly replied
“The luggage is destroyed and useless … and the clothing was worth about $3500,” I said.
“That’s not my problem, here’s a number you can call to make a claim,” the man said as he handed me a slip of paper and disappeared back into his car.
Even though it was a charter airline, I expected a little more customer service, concern and even the smallest bit of sympathy and understanding for our loss and ordeal. I guess I expected too much.
We called the phone number the next day and got a busy signal again. Finally several days later, we got a pre-recorded message when we called telling us that the charter airline we had flown was going out of business and had ceased all operations.
The lessons to be learned from our ordeal are simple. Beware of charter airlines and if you’re traveling during the winter, never check your winter coats in your luggage … and never let any airline staff member coerce you into doing it.