Working full-time as a travel and food writer, much of my time is spent on the road and since I am currently making my home base on a small island, that means flying everywhere. While I love the idea of traveling with only carry on baggage, it is not always feasible and that opens the door for abject terror on my part after each flight — will my luggage show up?
Years ago, I was quite naive, I thought lost luggage was only a myth. It wasn’t until my father returned from an overseas business trip to find his luggage never arrived at LAX that I realized it could be a reality. Sadly, United Airlines refused to honor the international reimbursement amount because his luggage was lost on the leg from SFO to LAX and therefore considered domestic and subject to a nominal reimbursement. It was then my eyes were opened to the possibility that when I was old enough to travel on my own, there is the real chance I will reach my destination and find I have nothing except the clothes on my back.
That fear kept me using carry on luggage whenever possible as I did not want to relinquish control of my belongings — if I lost my luggage around the airport then it was no one’s fault other than my own.
Now, fast forward 15 years and the day I departed for my dream two week cruise in the Mediterranean…with only carry on luggage. I had purchased a new Samsonite bag that was touted as the perfect carry on luggage as it was well within the carry on size limits for the airlines. I packed very thin and super lightweight clothes, along with my little black dresses for the two formal nights and a few things to rotate for regular dining room nights.
I had no issues on my flight from California to Colorado, but disaster ended up striking as I boarded the Lufthansa flight bound for Frankfurt. I had got on the plane and turned around to find my travel companion had been stopped by an agent at the door. I went back to see what the problem was and she was taking the suitcase as she claimed it was not approved carry on size. Interestingly, the bin they had at the door barely fit a laptop case, let alone any suitcase. The bin and the signage looked as though it was 20 years old.
Unfortunately, the bag in question they were preparing to check was my suitcase. I tried to ask the flight attendant to give me the bag back as I had valuables inside. She refused to release the bag to me and assured me that it would definitely be okay. Looking back on the scenario, I should have said I had medications in the bag, but this was during the heightened security after a terrorist incident and I was terrified of making a scene and being asked to leave.
She handed us a claim ticket and ushered us inside the plane after handing my bag off to the ground personnel standing there. They were taking a lot of people’s bags who were also quite unhappy. Once we arrived in Frankfurt we had a series of mishaps with Lufthansa communications and spent the better part of two hours running between gates to find our next flight. After hours of delays and displays of some of the worst customer service imaginable, some of us were on the flight to Venice, Italy finally.
Once we arrived in Venice, we learned there was a baggage handlers’ strike going on. After waiting patiently for all the bags to come out, the belt stopped and my bag never appeared. About 30 others or more were missing baggage as well. We were told to go stand in the luggage claim line….behind the 250 other people that had been waiting for five hours already.
Fortunately, our cruise was not departing until the morning so we were not in danger of being left behind, but 50 or so in front of us were. They made arrangements for them to do the claims from the ship, which helped shave an hour off the line! Three hours later we were still there and told my luggage may come on the next plane which was already due to arrive soon. The claims rep also told me to purchase what I need on the ship and they will reimburse me for everything as well.
After spending four more hours in the Venice airport, my bag still never arrived and we made our way to the ship after dark — missing our evening excursion and dinner. All I had with me at this point was the clothes on my back — jeans, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt.
The next morning, I planned to try and find something in the cruise ship gift shop but was told nothing will open until the ship reached open waters later that evening. I was forced to tour Venice that morning in the same clothes I had worn for two days and mind you, it was nearing the start of summer there.
I spent most of my trip in the Internet cafe checking claim status and trying to call Lufthansa as did the helpful Princess Cruise employees. Never any response from Lufthansa nor did my baggage arrive. I tried to purchase or rent items on the ship which was nearly impossible. They rent evening shoes I was told — except they only had two sizes bigger than I needed so I had to try and stuff tissue paper inside. I had no clothes for the dining room and no bathing suit for the pool or the exotic beaches we would be headed to. It did not hit me right away that I no longer had make-up or anything to do my hair with either and seeing how I have allergies to many types of make-up, this was quite concerning since I was the girl who never left the house without make-up or hair done.
The cost of trying to get a few items onboard was quite high and practically nothing fit. I had no clothes fit for evening dining room attire and could not walk in the rental shoes for the formal nights. My entire trip was spent trying to put together stuff to wear from each port rather than focusing on the incredible historical sights I had dreamt my whole lift about visiting. I spent over $200 in internet and phone bill charges trying to contact Lufthansa and it was not until I arrived back in the United States that I actually received some kind of response — they could not find my baggage as it never was even put on the plane in Colorado!
If the luggage was not put on the plane — it left only one answer. The baggage handler who heard me say there were valuables inside took the bag and never put it on the plane. I ended up losing a Movado watch and Tiffany necklace to name a few of the valuables that were now forever gone.
To this day, over four years later, I have never received one penny of reimbursement from Lufthansa. I received a nice letter several months after I arrived that said they were willing to reimburse 50% of what I purchased on the ship as they were items I would have bought or can use anyways! I can tell you with complete certainty; I would have never purchased any of those items for myself ever (except perhaps the flip flops).
Supposedly, Lufthansa would have reimbursed me around $500 or so for a loss that cost me upwards of $5,000 when you add in the cost to replace everything (although I never was able to replace my expensive jewelry since I needed to replace the daily necessity items first). Sadly, this is one of those scenarios where the conduct of the airline goes beyond negligence — when you take someone’s baggage with the intent of never putting it on the plane, it becomes intentional.
That experience taught me a lot and now, I never keep any valuables even in my carry on suitcase – purse (or personal item) only in case a similar incident occurs. While that incident left me scarred, distrusting, and broke, it did teach me to be a smarter traveler. Now, if I have to check bags, I divide up items so if one suitcase does not make it, I am not left without any clothes. I am looking forward to the day when I can get my “do over” and experience the Mediterranean as I had always dreamed about. And no, I will not be flying Lufthansa.