July 5, 2007
Customer Relations USA
Post Office Box 690098
East Elmhurst, NY 11369-0098
To whom it may concern:
My wife and I are incensed over the loss of our baggage on a recent British Airways flight. Actually, “loss” is a misnomer, because BA knew where our baggage was at every moment and missed many opportunities to deliver it to us in a timely fashion. At every turn, the way the problem was handled added to our anxiety rather than reducing it and delayed the delivery of our baggage rather than expediting it. The unnecessary delay lessened the quality of our trip and was completely and unequivocally unnecessary.
We flew from Boston to London on American Airlines flight 156 on June 20. Our AA flight arrived late, leaving us about an hour to make our connecting flight, British Airways flight 163 to Tel Aviv. Over 15 minutes of that time was lost waiting for the shuttle to Terminal 4; had it been running more frequently, all of the problems detailed below might never have occurred.
While boarding the BA flight, I asked a gate agent if our baggage had been loaded. She entered our tag numbers into her computer, which responded that our bags were “not cleared for loading”. She said that meant that our bags couldn’t be loaded until we had boarded the flight. Now that we were boarding, she said, our bags would be taken care of.
A few minutes later, the same agent came onto the plane and asked to see our tag numbers again, so that she could confirm that our bags had been loaded. I gave her the tag numbers, and she left.
In fact, three of our eight bags were not loaded. There is no legitimate excuse for your failure to load our bags onto our flight.
If you had then loaded our bags onto the next BA flight to Tel Aviv, flight 165, they would have arrived ten hours after we did, and they could have been delivered to us the same day. Instead, you held them in London until flight 163 on June 22. There is no legitimate excuse for your turning what could have been a ten-hour delay into two days.
For the two days during which our bags were sitting in London waiting to be sent to Tel Aviv, your on-line baggage tracing service reported only “tracing in progress, check back later”. There is no legitimate excuse for your not knowing exactly where our bags were, and there is no legitimate excuse for your failure to provide us with timely, accurate information about the whereabouts of our bags and when they would be delivered to us.
Here is what I expect from the person at the airport responsible for handling a customer’s report of missing baggage: undivided attention; a sincere, abject apology; a detailed explanation of what would be done to locate the bags and deliver them; a detailed explanation of what the options are for replacing essential items in the missing bags; and an assurance that everything possible would be done to get the bags to their destination as quickly as possible.
Here is what I got instead from the QAS employee who handled my report: a surly, distracted, incompetent agent who acted like she was doing us a favor by helping us, never offered a single word of apology or sympathy, and didn’t volunteer any information about what we should do about our essential missing items. After prompting from me, she said that the airline would not reimburse us for any replacement costs until our bags had been missing for 24 hours. When I objected that this would leave two of my children and me without clothes or bathing suits, she responded peremptorily, “Well, you’ve got five of your bags, so what’s the problem?”
The agent had to call over another employee several times to assist her with handling our report, something which is her job and which she presumably has many opportunities to practice throughout every work day. Furthermore, she made three significant typographical errors when entering our addresses, thus ensuring later complications when attempts were made to deliver our bags to us.
There is no legitimate excuse for the way the agent treated us. There is no legitimate excuse for the multiple mistakes she made during the simple process of entering our claim into the computer.
Over the following two days, I repeatedly called the Tel Aviv telephone number I was given to check on the status of our bags and to find out what we could do about replacing essential items. Over half of my calls during business hours reached voice-mail rather than a person, and I was never able to successfully reach a person outside of business hours. I left several messages, none of which were returned. I left a new contact telephone number to be used instead of the one we had provided at the airport, and that request was ignored – several attempts were subsequently made to reach us at the old, wrong number, and your on-line baggage tracing service shows that number to this day. There is no legitimate excuse for not providing reliable, 24×7 access to people, let alone reliable access during business hours, for passengers who need help with their lost baggage. There is no legitimate excuse for failing to handle the critical task of updating a passenger’s contact information when new information is provided.
I realize that QAS is a contractor and that it was QAS, not BA, which caused these problems. Nevertheless, you are ultimately responsible for the unacceptable service provided by your contractors.
At one point I was so fed up with being unable to reach your office in Tel Aviv that I paid for an international call to the UK to try to reach your office there. Instead of reaching a person, I reached a recording informing me that your office was very busy and I should try back later. There is no legitimate excuse for your failure to staff your UK office with enough people to handle the incoming call volume.
Here is what I expect from the people responsible for delivering a passenger’s delayed bags once they reach their destination airport: reliable, 24×7 telephone access to arrange delivery; the ability to accurately follow directions about where to deliver the bags; and prompt delivery within hours of the bags’ arrival at the destination airport.
Here is what I got instead: the courier, Aviation Services Holdings Ltd., called the wrong number to reach us and left two telephone numbers there. One of the numbers they left didn’t work. When I called the other one, the man at the other end told me that I had to call yet another number. When I called that number, the man at the other end told me he didn’t want to deal with me right now and I should call back in the morning. When I called back in the morning, he told me it was too early and I should call back later. When I called back, he told me that he didn’t understand why I was bothering him on his day off, demanded to know where I got his number, and then gave me yet another number to call to reach the supervisor who might actually be able to help me.
I called the supervisor’s number several times over the course of several hours before he finally answered. He gave me the number of the courier who was supposedly on the way to Jerusalem with my bags so that I could arrange delivery directly with him. I called that number, and the man at the other end said he was on the way and would call me back for directions when he was almost there. Two hours later (note that the trip from the airport to Jerusalem takes less than an hour), he called back and informed me that his van had broken down and he had no idea when my bags would be delivered. I asked, “What time-frame are you talking about? Hours? Days?” He responded, “I don’t know,” and hung up on me.
I waited for over an hour, during which time I heard from no one, and then started trying to reach the supervisor again. When I finally got through to him after numerous attempts, he said that a replacement van was on the way and my bags would be delivered within two hours.
Over five hours later, the courier finally called to get directions to our location. I gave him our address and explained our location clearly. He called back a few minutes later, and my wife again explained our location. Nevertheless, when he arrived, he parked in front of the wrong building, and I had to drag and carry our bags a significant distance from his van.
Our bags were not delivered to us until 6pm on June 24, over 36 hours after they arrived in Tel Aviv, over 21 hours after we first made contact with the courier to arrange delivery, and over three and a half days after our arrival.
There is no legitimate excuse for the difficulty I had reaching the people responsible for delivering our bags. There is no legitimate excuse for the runaround I was given before I actually reached someone who could help me. There is no legitimate excuse for the fact that our bags were not delivered to us within hours of when we first made contact with the courier.
Once again, although the courier who delivered our bags is a contractor, you are ultimately responsible for the poor service they provided.
I have enclosed a spreadsheet showing the cost of the items we had to replace while waiting for our bags to arrive. We have no receipts for these items, because they were purchased at an open-air market whose merchants accept only cash and do not issue receipts. I expect you to see to it that we are fully reimbursed in US dollars for all of these items. I expect you to do this without asking for us to contact any other address, fill out any additional paperwork, or jump through any additional hoops. Please don’t make this bad experience any worse.
Our negative experience is not unique. Print media, the airwaves, and the Web are filled with horror stories about airline baggage handling. It is difficult to understand why the industry is incapable of designing and implementing an effective, efficient process for getting passengers’ bags to where they need to go. In a climate of such gross incompetence, an airline which provided something better would have a distinct competitive advantage.
One final note… I would be remiss were I not to mention that aside from the problems with the handling of our baggage, we found flying on BA to be extremely pleasant, certainly more so than other airlines we’ve used. Your staff are friendly and helpful, your seats are more comfortable and seem to have more legroom, your in-flight entertainment is good and has selections that are appropriate for young children, and you provide sufficient food and drink on long flights, even for passengers who require Kosher meals. All of these are areas in which we’ve had negative experiences on other airlines. I compliment you for getting them right and I encourage you to continue to do so. It really is a shame that the otherwise positive experience of flying on BA was marred by such a terrible experience with our baggage.