Lost luggage can be a horror story for almost every traveler. This last August my husband and I traveled to South Africa. We booked this trip through a travel agent and there was never any indication or discussion about the safety of our luggage prior to the trip. We were given instruction that we could take one checked bag and one carry on bag only. Nothing more could be carried onto the plane.
We arrived in South Africa without incident, well if you don’t include the fact our right engine went out on the plane in Seattle, Washington, it was smooth sailing.
Once in South Africa all was fine until the day of our departure. At the Nelspruit airport we were given two suggestions. First we were told that it would be better to check our bags all the way through to Washington DC and second we were told never to do this because of the dangers.
Asking the airline clerk for her opinion she stated, “that is untrue there is no reason to suspect anything will happen to your bag.” So mistake made we checked clear through. Our stop at Johannesburg went well and we were off for that 22-hour flight to DC.
Arriving in Washington DC we had filled out our customs cards and indicated we had items to claim for return to the US. When arriving passengers leave the plane and pick up luggage passing through customs after this time.
We arrive at the baggage belt and there sits my suitcase, after grabbing it we stand waiting for hubbies suitcase to arrive. Another 20 minutes passes and we are still hopeful, however, we find it doesn’t show up on the belt. Of course there is no office to report to but a woman standing at a podium and so we approach her for assistance. She explains that she must call over to another area and have them search for the bag. Long story short, we wait about two hours sitting on our suitcase only to be told no bag has arrived from South Africa.
Oh, but we still must go through customs since the claimed items were in his lost luggage. Another half of an hour passes and we get through the crowd and on to the desk to claim lost luggage.
Here the United Airlines Clerk states clearly, “I am the only one who can write these forms up properly to find your bag.” Thinking she must be a supervisor or at least certainly the person we need to help us we allow her to fill out the form and she provides us with a phone number to call the next day. She explains that we are supposed to call in the morning and they will have our bag.
We had eight days in Washington DC and you guessed it, no clothes and of course the toilet items and my hearing aids were in his luggage. Checking into the hotel we explained he had no luggage and they kindly gave us a toothbrush and toothpaste along with travel deodorant and shampoo. We were set till morning.
On the following day we found out that we were not set for the day, I called the number given and after 15 calls never was able to speak with a live person. I was also asked to provide a case number when calling, which the nice professional woman, who knew the ropes on the form, did not provide.
We made another trip to the airport to check on the bag the next day, which is after we went to purchase clothing for hubby. We were told at the United Airlines office that this was common for South Africa, the missing bags. A form was filled out and we were told that the bag would not show up for 45 days or more.
A call to our travel agent and an inquiry as to why they did not tell us up front that there was danger with having our bags checked was met with the strong urge to help us find that bag. After 8 days our bag was located by South African Airlines, still in Nulspruit, South Africa with the excuse that the airline tag had fallen off. I again called our travel agent and United Airlines and ask them, “there was a hand written name tag on the bag with phone numbers and e-mail addresses, why did they not send me an e-mail or call me to find out where we were located?” No response.
The items we had purchased due to the lost bag had to be thrown away. Yes thrown away because they could not be put in the suitcases as that made them over 50 pounds in weight and we were not allowed to take a small bag with the items on the plane as we had our two bag per person limit.
My suggestions to travelers is, “Do not put anything in a checked bag that you cannot live without, and if possible only use a carry-on bag when traveling anywhere, even overseas.” Always take that travel insurance, they paid for all of our necessary purchases of items while the luggage was lost. However, be sure to get a note from the airline when they deliver the luggage to prove the date they return it to you. The insurance requires that you prove the luggage was lost and not in your possession for 24 hours before they will pay the cost of those items.