How to handle when your luggage doesn’t show up

Luggage cart

Alaska Airlines has been pretty good to me. While their product isn’t anything extravagant, it’s certainly enjoyable enough, and I pretty much never have to deal with agents who totally hate their life (which was something I encountered with regularity on other airlines).

The question is: can this love fest with Alaska survive a epic failure to perform its duties?

Personally, I didn’t particularly have any interest in answering this question, but I was thrust into the situation anyway when on a recent flight, my bag failed to arrive on the belt, and I was left without any clothes the day before a business meeting.

Newb

Okay, so you may call me a travel newb for checking a bag. I ought to be emulating Ryan Bingham:

But even though my bag is small enough fit in the overhead, I honestly just enjoy not having to deal with lugging my bag around. Plus, sometimes I like to take along liquids and gels that are greater than 100 ml, and other such contraband. (Gasp.)

But I grant that the airlines can’t lose a bag that they don’t have.

No bag

Anyway, I arrived at my final destination at around 6PM. It was a small airport, so I didn’t expect to have to wait very long to get my bag.

I knew something was wrong as I quickly found myself alone in the baggage claim area. After a bit, two baggage handlers came out, looked at me curiously. “Are you waiting for your bag? That’s it. There’s no more bags.

I jumped right over being indignant. I mean, what good would that do? It wasn’t their fault that my bag was stuck in limbo. So don’t get angry might be a useful place to start.

Don’t get mad, get busy

But, in best Douglas Adams parlance, don’t panic either is another useful place to start.

And in truth, I had a practical reason for not panicking: I didn’t have time.

I had a business meeting at 8AM, and the dress code was solidly business casual. I was at this point wearing my usual plane outfit, which can only be described as “slumber party casual”.

So the next step was to figure out what I absolutely needed in the next day. I knew that I only needed clothes for a single day. According to The Telegraph, 80% of lost bags were returned to their owner within 36 hours. And even if your delay is longer, you could figure out what you need later, later.

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My original plan was to take a cab to my hotel, and cram for the meeting in the morning, but now I had a new need: I needed to get a full set of clothes. I also needed to rent a car, as I didn’t want to rely on cabs to get me around with such a time crunch.

But first, I went to the baggage counter and filled out a delayed baggage form. (This seems obvious, but if you panic in these types of situations, you may forget to do this.) But it’s important to register the incident as quickly as possible. This is because the sooner they can trace the bag, the sooner it can get from where it is to where it needs to be. And the later in the day it gets, the more offices start to shut down, which can lead to even more delays.

That said, don’t expect that they will be able to locate the bag immediately. I don’t know why UPS or FedEx can locate my bag anywhere on Earth to within 50 centimeters, but airlines can only seem to tell you approximately which time zone your bag may be in. There is no point in fuming over this. You can only trust the process.

I then did something I’ve never done before: I walked up to an airport car rental counter, and asked what was available right then. (I did check Costco’s rental car service, but it didn’t seem to be optimized for same day rentals.) Somehow, the travel gods shined on me, and I was able to acquire a basic conveyance for not too much money.

Speed shopping

So in in a race against time, I then drove from the airport right out of town, and to the nearest big box shopping center. This might be the biggest argument for the widespread availability of big box stores: I knew I could get everything I wanted, and it was open late.

What transpired was the most efficient and frantic clothes shopping trip in my entire life. Somehow, within an hour or so, I had acquired a shirt, pants, belt, socks, basically everything I needed to be reasonably presentable.

Get reimbursed

With this in mind, this leads me to the final suggestion for someone else in my situation: make the airline pay for your expenditures. Or rather: politely raise hell.

My clothes bill came to almost $200, which I had zero interest in paying for. So I talked to the baggage office, and told them that I would like them to set things right.

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Well, I don’t know how other airlines do things, but I was informed that I could go to the baggage counter when I got home, and ask for a reimbursement right then and there. All I needed to show them was a receipt.

I have to admit that the idea of “instant reimbursement” seemed a bit far-fetched. After all, airlines are no Amazon Prime.

But that is exactly what happened. I presented myself at the baggage office, and within fifteen minutes or so, I had a check made out to me the exact amount of my receipt.

Alaska refund check
No joke, it was that fast.

I was out of luck on the car though, as it technically wasn’t an expense directly related to the lost property. (It was worth asking, though.)

All in all, my bag went missing for less than 24 hours. And even though it sucked a lot, I managed to keep my cool (somewhat) in order to get done what needed to be done.

And on the way home, I carried my bag on. You know, maybe just this once.

But enough about me. Have you ever had a delayed luggage experience? How did you handle it?

And special thanks to Anastasia and all of the other folks I talked to at the various Alaska baggage offices over the past week or so. Thanks for putting up with me.

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