Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Baggage Claim

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and daughter flew back from vacation, but their luggage didn't. This was more than just lost suitcases -- this was idiotic airline policy at work.

The plane was one of those 50-seat flying cigar tubes that substitute for big jet service in and out of St. Louis ever since American took away our status as a hub. These aircraft are so small that there's no room in the overhead bin for even your average carry-on bag.

For years, we've always carried our stuff with us, because we know how often checked bags get sent to the wrong destination. Somehow, we once took a two-week vacation to Australia without checking a single item! Thus, we've pretty much managed to avoid the annoyance of having our luggage go off on a little freelance vacation of its own.

Because the bins on these mini-jets are so tiny they can't hold anything larger than a sac pack, you have to hand your carry-ons to an airline employee in the jetway. He gives you a claim ticket, puts your stuff in the baggage compartment, and returns it to you when you land.

That's how it's supposed to work. In theory. In this case (not a singular situation, I guarantee you), the flight was so full they had a weight problem (hello, Department of Warning Signs?). Rather than kicking passengers off the plane, they removed some luggage instead.

Problem is, they didn't tell anyone about this, so when my family got to Lambert Airport, they waited for their bags, which never came down the chute, because they were still at Logan Airport in Boston. Since the vacation was over, the bags didn't contain anything of vital importance, just dirty clothes and other trip remnants. When it was delivered by pickup truck the next day, it was fine.

But the airline didn't know that. For all they knew, this was the beginning of the vacation for the owners of that luggage. Or worse, it could have been someone traveling on business who really needed some dress clothes to wear to a meeting first thing in the morning. That corporate man or woman would then have to find alternate clothing and other personal items, a hassle they just don't need.

If that's me, I'd rather be told in the departure city that I'm making the trip without my bags, so I can decide whether to go ahead, wait for the next available flight, or at least have a chance to stuff a clean pair of underwear in my pocket just in case.

I told you this wasn't a rare occurrence. Here's proof.

Over the weekend, Walter Neubrand and Jake Goertzen waited in the baggage claim area of the airport in Fort St. John, Canada, for a piece of cargo that never appeared. Everybody else got their stuff, but Walter and Jake didn't see theirs, which freaked them out more than a little bit. You'll see why in a moment.

They talked to an Air Canada agent, who checked the plane, couldn't find it, did some checking, and finally told them their package was still sitting in the Vancouver airport, because it was too heavy to fly. The package in question only weighed 35 pounds, but got the same treatment my wife and daughter's suitcases got.

Here's the kicker. Jake is the head scout for the NHL champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The package he was awaiting, which is escorted everywhere by Walter, is The Stanley Cup.

One of the most prized trophies in the world. A true piece of sports history. Of all the luggage in the cargo area of that plane, that's the single item that was removed.

One Canadian hockey fan (okay, that's redundant) was shocked when he heard about The Cup being left behind. Brent Lock told ESPN, "It's not like it's a brown paper bag; it's the holy grail. It's probably the most important non-religious artifact in Canada!"

Good thing it didn't have a meeting to attend the next morning. Nobody wants to see The Stanley Cup wearing the same underwear two days in a row.