When we get home, still not quite believing what has just happened, we collapse. Why am I so tired? Why is my head aching? I close my eyes and put my feet up on a couple of pillows. The house is silent as though to say, “What are you doing here?” After an hour or so, I get up enough courage to tell Antun that I have a bad feeling about our checked baggage trace. “For some reason I don’t believe what the baggage agent told us.”
There’s a number on the folder the San Jose agent has given us. Antun dials. When he finally gets a real person, she doesn’t let him explain. “She tells him, I don’t have that number you are referencing. I can’t help you.” It’s my turn to try. I find another number on the web and dial. After fumbling through the voice recognition system I get a live agent.
“American Airlines Baggage. This is Teresa. Can I help you.”
I think, Santa Teresa, patron saint of headache sufferers. Thank you. Thank you.
“Teresa, thank you for taking my call,” I hear myself saying. “I have a rather complicated situation that I hope you can help me with.”
“Yes, yes, I will help you. What’s the problem?”
“Well,” and I give her a synopsis of the baggage situation. “The American agent in Dallas gave us a Bag Change Order Number. Here it is.”
“Ah,” says Teresa, “You know those BCOs never work. I don’t know why some agents at the big airports still give them out. They never work. You need to file a delayed baggage claim.”
“Oh, I see.” Now I understand why no one has recognized the number given us by the American agent in Dallas. “How do I file the claim?”
“We’ll do that right now. I am going to ask you for the information and I’ll file the claim.” Teresa starts asking a series of questions about the bags, how many, checked in for what destination, and their size, type, color, and maker. Do we have our names on the outside of the bags? Name three articles in each. When we finish Teresa gives me a file record locator number. “This is the number you must use to track your bags, she says.”
“What happens now?” I ask.
“Well, I think they will send your bags to Chile. I am pretty sure that they are in a container in Dallas with the other bags from last night’s canceled flight to Santiago.”
“How do we get them back?
“I have sent e-mail to both Dallas and Santiago. Now we have to wait. You should call back tonight and then again in the morning. Here at the Call Center nothing happens unless you call. If you call, we can always send a follow-up e-mail if we don’t have new information.”
“Thank you so much for you help, Teresa.” I am thinking Santa Teresa, “I will call again tonight.”
When I call again it is almost 11PM in California. That means that the bags have either been separated out from the bags going to Chile or they are on the plane and heading south, that is if the flight has taken off. This time when I call I do not get Santa Teresa. The woman on the other end of the phone sounds irritated. “We haven’t located the bags yet. Call back later.”
I assume that the bags are on the flight to Chile. I go to the web and check flight status for today’s American Flight 945. It left at 9:55PM, twenty-five minutes after its scheduled departure time. I wonder what time it left on Friday night. Had it really left on time?
I’m tired and go to bed. Antun is already sleeping. I try to sleep but can’t. I realize that the bags will have to go through customs in Chile and then again back in the US plus make a connecting flight to San Francisco. Too many steps. One or both of the bags are sure to get lost, really lost. Then I remember that Antun’s sister Dalma had a friend who worked at the airport. In Customs, I thought she had told me. I get up and go to my e-mail.
Querida Dalmita, I write. I ask her about her friend and provide the baggage information. Back in bed I immediately fall asleep.
In the morning, I check my e-mail. Nothing yet. I check the American Airlines Delayed Baggage web site using the record file locator. No update there either. Santiago is three hours ahead of San Francisco so, theoretically, the flight got in an hour ago. After a cup of coffee, I check my e-mail again. There is mail from Dalma.
Querida Mary, she writes. Don Enrique still works in Customs at the airport. He is enquiring after the bags and will e-mail me when he has information. An hour later another e-mail. The bags will arrive tomorrow, July 1st to San Francisco on Flight 431. Confirm with American and e-mail me back. Now, I say to myself, I have three saints: Teresa, Dalma, and Don Enrique.
I call American again. The agent confirms that the bags will arrive on July 1st on Flight 431 from Miami. I ask which flight they are on from Santiago. “Flight 912 leaving tonight.”
“I will pick the bags up at the San Francisco airport,” I tell the agent. Now we just have to wait.
Next morning, Antun gets a call from American confirming that the bags are on Flight 431. On the web I do a flight status and see that the flight is delayed and will arrive about twenty-five minutes late. No problem. I expect nothing different from American. Soon we can end this trip to nowhere.
I get to the airport at 11:15AM. The flight has landed. At the American baggage counter I hand the agent a print out of the Delayed Baggage Status file from the web.
“How many bags?” she asks.
“Two,” the baggage claim numbers are there.” I point to the numbers. “American called this morning and confirmed they are on Flight 431 that just came in.”
“Who called you?”
“American Airlines called. I don’t know the name of the person.”
She stares at the computer monitor for awhile. then leaves and goes into a back room. In a few minutes she comes out. “They are not here,” she says. “Could you follow me to look.”
I follow her into the back room. There are perhaps twenty bags there. I scan the room. “The bags from Dallas are over here,” she tells me.
“The bags are on Flight 431 from Miami.” I say.
“Well, Miami is over there and they are not there either.”
She turns and walks out. I follow. My heart is racing up into my throat. I’m thinking not again, but have the wits to say, “Flight 431 just got in. Would they be on the carousel?”
At that moment an older gentleman who also working the desk says, “Flight 431. Yes, they should be on the carousel. Please follow me.
And, there they are, our traveling bags, that made it to Chile and back, even though we didn’t.
This saga is over. It has taught me a valuable lesson. When planning an international trip that requires a connection, three plus hours between connections isn’t enough. From now on, we’ll give ourselves more. Never take the word of any one agent, ask the same question more than once to different agents to see if the answers match. If not, ask again. And, make sure there is more than one international flight per day. This means that we won’t be flying American airlines through Dallas ever, ever again.
All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum