It has happened to me quite a number of times, unfortunately, and I am one of those unlucky guys who's luggage is always lost on the outbound flight, not on the flight home where it really wouldn't matter that much... but this is really the worst experience I've ever had... beware - this post is LONG:
On 18/19 April 1998 I flew as follows:
to LCA and on to HRE
(3:40, 1 hour stop, 7:45)
to VFA (1:00, after waiting a few hours in HRE
for the connection)
from VFA to MUB (1:00, again after waiting a while)
In the end, I had flown about 24 hours to arrive in Botswana, and my suitcase had stayed with me up to Victoria Falls - but there it was, as I found out later, mis-labeled and sent to Johannesburg on SAA, with me flying to Maun on Air Botswana.
It took about 30 minutes for the guys in Maun to understand that I had not boarded the plane without a suitcase, and that I wanted them to call VFA to see if my suitcase had just stayed there... all they agreed to is putting the request into the computer system, stating that the message would be passed on to VFA by computer and that they'd respond if it was there - and I was asked to return the following day.
The following day, the day before I was scheduled to go on a 4 day safari into Moremi Game Reserve, I went back to the airport and got - nothing: they couldn't even find their copy of the "suitcase missing" form and couldn't find the request in the computer... I once again asked them to call VFA, but they again declined, but at least they gave me the phone number for VFA.
I went back to my hotel and called - and was, after describing the situation, forwarded to someone from SAA, who then told me that they had in fact had my suitcase on their flight to JNB
and had been wondering when I'd call them: he'd try to get my suitcase back to VFA, but I might have to wait until I got to JNB
the following week to get it - but he'd notify JNB
so that they'd know that I'd be coming by.
So, I went on Safari with 2 t-shirts and 2 pairs of underwear and socks (the supply I keep in my on-board luggage, just for cases like this)...
When I came back to MUB on 25 April I, just for the "fun" in it, asked them if they had heard anything - but, once again, they hadn't.
So, I boarded my flight to BBK (Kasane, Botswana - about 55 minutes), got to my hotel there and took my first real shower in 5 days... and once again proceeded to wash my clothes in the normal basin (laundry service would never have gotten my things ready in time for my departure the next day... believe me... I asked...).
The next morning, I got on a minibus back to Victoria Falls, at the airport I found the guy from SAA who told me that they had not gotten the suitcase, but that it was in JNB
: he gave me a description of where I should go on my arrival.
So, once again, I boarded a flight - this time on Air Zimbabwe to JNB
, 1:45 length - without my suitcase. After arriving in JNB
I went directly to the lost luggage counter and was, with a pleasant smile, informed that since my suitcase had a Voyager (SAA SA
)">FF-Program) Luggage tag that corresponded to an address in Germany, they sent it to Frankfurt...
At this point, I was very close to asking for a switch from Hotel to Mental asylum for the next night...
When I arrived in my hotel room, I called a colleague and asked him to call SAA in Frankfurt, which he did - and they confirmed that my suitcase had been there for almost a week by then (although they had not sent out any notification of this). Then, they flat out refused to transport the suitcase, stating that there would be no passenger travelling with it and that that would be against their regulations: at this point, my colleague reminded them that they already had transported the suitcase without a passenger travelling with it (from JNB
), and that since they had complete control over the suitcase for the whole week they should know that there is no danger in taking it back to JNB
: after some lengthy discussions they agreed to take it back to JNB
, but only after putting it into a decompression chamber for a while... just in case...
In any case, it would be on the flight to JNB
the same evening, so I could pick it up the next morning.
If you're guessing that that would be a much too simple end to this, then you're right: when they were finished decompressing my suitcase, the flight to JNB
was already gone (or at least quite close to leaving) - so my suitcase had to wait another 24 hours... something that I found out when I went to the airport the morning that my suitcase was supposed to come in (I actually called in advance and was told that it was on board).
Since I was, by then, on my way towards Kruger National Park I left a list of my hotels and contact details with SAA in JNB
, so that they could inform me as soon as my suitcase arrived - and they agreed to send it to Skukuza airport in the park as soon as it had.
The next morning I called SAA and got the confirmation that my suitcase had, indeed, now arrived in JNB
- and they'd be putting it on one of the three flights to Skukuza that day.
When I came into Skukuza, at that time the first two flights had already arrived, there was - you probably guessed it - no suitcase waiting for me, so I waited for the third one, which was already in the air and about to arrive: it arrived, all luggage was unloaded, my suitcase was not among the load.
So I went to the counter in the airport, told them my story, and one of the employees (who didn't even work for SAA, but for Comair) called JNB
: there, she was told the following story:
"In the morning, SAA called Air Zimbabwe and asked them to send someone to pick up the suitcase, since AirZim had been responsible for the original mislabeling... when the guy from AirZim showed up, the first flight was already gone, but he was well in time for the second, so he took the suitcase from the SAA office and was supposed to bring it to the SA
Express flight to Skukuza... unfortunately, he only arrived at the gate after the flight had already left. Then he must have gone to lunch, or whatever, because when he arrived back at the SAA office to ask what to do, the third flight had also already left."
She was absolutely speechless and asked me several times, why I was staying so calm... I told her that I had gotten over being angry the previous week, and that by now, I was only surprised by the fact that Murphy's law was so present in the world of aviation...
But what she did then actually surprised me: she called the Comair office in JNB
and told them to send someone to SAA and pick up the suitcase and bring it to one of the SA
Airlink flights into Nelspruit the following day (the city where I was going next)... they seemed a bit reluctant at first, but at some point they agreed.
The next day, after arriving in Nelspruit, I went straight to the airport: and my suitcase was there!!! About two weeks after I had checked it in at VFA for my flight to MUB, I finally had it back - and there were no damages to it or the contents...
When I was back in Germany the following week, I sent a letter to Air Zimbabwe and SAA, describing the whole thing - I never got any reply (and at some point I simply didn't care any more), nor any apology... but, at least, I got my suitcase back.
It was actually the same suitcase that missed my connection from FRA
to VFA via WDH in November 2001, and it - once again - took about a week to get it back... but that's another story...