Oh Bag, Where Art Thou?!

Filed Under: American, Travel

On Friday I shared the somewhat crazy story of how my plane side bag was simply left on the tarmac in Salt Lake City, and all the drama that followed. The “highlight” of the drama, no doubt, was when a supervisor threatened to call the cops on me for something I didn’t do.

To recap

At the end of the last installment I discovered that my bag had been sitting on the tarmac in Salt Lake City all along. The previously hostile but now overly friendly supevisor, P, informed me that my bag would be placed on the next flight to Los Angeles, which was scheduled to land at 3:30PM. Apparently American couldn’t check the bag through to my final destination, but rather I’d have to pick it up at baggage claim.

My connection was at 4:45PM, so that could have worked… barely.

My flight

Flight my bag was supposedly on

I headed over to Tom Bradley International Terminal for a tour of the Qantas First Class Lounge, and then at around 3:30PM made my way back to American’s terminal, where I found the baggage claim belt for the flight from Salt Lake City that my bag was supposed to be on.

Conflicting information at baggage claim

I got to baggage claim at 3:45PM and got a phone call from a number without a caller ID. “Hi Mr. Schlappig, this is P. I just wanted to see if you got your bag?”

Woah, from being threatened with the cops to receiving a phone call to follow up within hours of one another? Snazzy! I thanked her for following up and explained that I was waiting at the baggage claim belt, and that I was hoping for the best. I confirmed once again that she was sure that my bag would arrive at baggage claim and not be checked through to JFK. She confirmed that was the case.

I had messaged American’s Twitter team a bit earlier, and go figure they responded three minutes after P calls me. Except they had a totally different story, also claiming they’d spoken with Salt Lake City.


So two completely conflicting stories within minutes of one another. Grrr!

I figured I’d wait at baggage claim as long as possible, but it was taking forever for bags to arrive. And I knew if I waited much longer I’d miss my flight.

At around 4PM the bags still weren’t there, and I figured my best bet was just to head to the departures level and try to make my flight to New York, and hope that American on Twitter was right.

Go figure about 10 minutes later I got yet another call from P, who wanted to see if my bag arrived. I explained it hadn’t.

Flagship Lounge to the rescue?

At 4:15PM, right as boarding began, I got to the Flagship Lounge. If there’s one place at LAX that has excellent service, it’s the Flagship Lounge.

I explained the situation to the agent. “I arrived from Salt Lake City on AA5404, where I valet checked my bag. As it turns out they left my bag and the bags of some other passengers on the ramp in Salt Lake City. Apparently my bag is now on AA2612. The agent that initially assisted me claimed it would arrive at baggage claim, while American’s Twitter team claimed they contacted Salt Lake City and it’s tagged through to my final destination. Do you have any ideas?”

The guy tried his best to help, but ultimately ended up just kind of shrugging his shoulders. He basically explained that since the bag didn’t have a tracking number (since it wasn’t initially checked), there wasn’t anything in his system to indicate the status of the bag. So I was more or less out of luck, and I’d have to file a report at baggage claim upon arrival.

Can an AAngel save the day?

That guy went on break, and another agent showed up. At this point it was 4:20PM — 25 minutes before departure, and 15 minutes before the door was scheduled to close.

Goodness gracious did she do her best! She literally was making multiple phone calls at once for me (one phone per ear). On one phone it was “Hi, this is ___ in the Flagship Lounge. Mr. Schlappig is here and we’re just dealing with a baggage issue, so please don’t give up his seat. He’ll be there before departure.”

On the other phone she was calling American Eagle baggage, I believe.

10 minutes before departure she told me to get on my flight, and that she’d keep working on it.

I ran for my departure gate, and as the door was about to close I got a call from her claiming that she confirmed my bag was actually checked and rushed onto AA180, which was the flight I was on. I thanked her profusely, and figured that was correct, since she apparently verified it was rushed and loaded on the flight.

45 minute delay at baggage claim

My flight landed at 1AM, and I figured bags would start coming out within 15-20 minutes at most, given we were the only flight landing around that time. The only airline on which I regularly check bags is Alaska, and they have a 20 minute baggage guarantee, meaning checked bags are at the carousel within 20 minutes of arrival. So it’s clear that bringing bags to the carousel could be an efficient process if the airlines wanted it to be, but they just don’t care enough to make that happen consistently, I guess.

It took over 45 minutes before the first bag came off the carousel. Crap like this really angers me. Forget my bag, but keeping dozens of people waiting when they’ve arrived on-time and the airport isn’t busy shows a complete lack of respect for the time of your customers. Especially when they’re arriving at 1AM.


Where’s my bag?!?

Eventually the bags from AA180 came, but my bag was nowhere to be found. Ugh!

“Hi, I was on AA180 and my bag didn’t arrive. To give a bit of background…”
“Okay, start by filling out this report.”
“No, please, hold on. Let me explain. This is a situation where I’ve literally had three official sources tell me my bag was in three different places over the course of 20 minutes. Before you file a report could you maybe call the baggage offices involved and try to get to the bottom of this? I’m going to Europe tomorrow, and this is literally all the clothes I have.”
“You need to file a report.”
“Can you maybe call the baggage offices in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City to see if they know anything?”
“No, they’re closed.”
“It’s not even 11PM there, and there are still flights arriving after that time in LA. Are you sure?”

It’s so frustrating to feel like you’re just not being listened to. She basically made me start a report before she’d talk to me. She sure had great attention to detail…


To make a long story short, the bag did end up arriving on AA22, and arrived at the carousel after 3AM. I didn’t get the bag till later, though.


My biggest frustration with this situation

Upon reflection, I’ve come to finally realize what was so frustrating about this experience. Remember that video I posted a few days back about the world’s most senior flight attendant? She shared one lesson which sounds so obvious but is so insightful:

But Bette, as she approaches her birthday on New Year’s Eve, says she has found something that seems universal and true.

“People want a little love. And I don’t mean a lot of hugging and everything, even though we might do that. But this is the big thing: People need attention. You can’t buy love. You can’t buy attention. But people need this.”

“And it’s for free,” Bette says. “You can give this to people for free.”

Bette is SO F#CKING RIGHT! My frustration wasn’t that my bag was misplaced (as ridiculous as it is to just forget about a plane side bag).

Rather, my frustration was with the fact that no one seemed to be willing to listen and actually understand the circumstances. It’s not that I wanted attention, per se, I just wanted someone to care. Or to pretend to care. Or to understand that my “situation” wasn’t as straightforward as filling out a form, since my bag didn’t even have a tracking number. But getting someone to listen to me long enough to understand the issue was a real struggle.

I didn’t check my bag on a four segment itinerary with tight connections. Instead, I left a bag plane side, and they just left it on the tarmac. I got official, conflicting information from three different employees within minutes of one another.

And I literally always have my carry-on with me, and was going to Europe the next day, so really couldn’t be without it.

It would have just been nice if one person were actually willing to listen to what I had to say, try to find a solution (as in picking up the phone and calling a baggage office in Salt Lake City or Los Angeles to see if they had my bag). Or if someone had actually said “sorry to hear about your situation.” But instead I just kind of felt like I was an inconvenience across the board.

Maybe it sounds silly, but sometimes you just want someone to relate to you. A little bit.

  1. Honestly, Ben, you seem a bit Precious about this bag ….

    I just couldn’t resist the joke, happy holidays!

  2. took a united flight to SAN from SFO once and landed around 10:30 PM — certainly not a busy period, and the airport is no goliath to be sure. waited 90 minutes at the carousel for bags. people were freaking out. went to the baggage office and was told 3 different carousels 3 different times. finally, after walking up and down the entire terminal, noticed my and my fellow passengers’ bags just sitting in a corner in a huge pile by a potted plant. can’t even begin to imagine what the heck was going on that night with the ground staff.

  3. Wow, quite an end to the story. Good thing your bag finally made it, but sure seems like they could have communicated a lot better!

  4. Let me first say that there are excellent CS reps. However, the bad apples are so bad that they’re the ones we mostly remember. So many act like we’re being unreasonable, demanding and burdening on them, even for the simplest requests. You wanted to find your (AA misplaced) plane side valet bag. Why is that so hard to understand? Seriously, for these sour and incompetent reps, there are other jobs. I’m the first to admit that I would never work in CS, I don’t have the patience or personality to deal with the public like that, so I save the public from my non-effervescent personality. 😉 Maybe it’s burn out or just plain bad training, but these people need to remember they are in *service* positions.

    ok, rant done, thanks for reading. Very glad you got your bag back. 🙂

    ps – Wonder what jolted P into line? Two direct calls, wow…..

  5. Flew Vueling from Granada to Barcelona waited almost 90 minutes for our bags to show up. It was midnight or 1 a.m. Inexplicable.

  6. Hi Ben! What’s the best way to touch base with you directly regarding this situation? I have something to share that I think you’d like to hear.

  7. So glad you got your bag in time for your next flight. Your bag should of had a tracking number. The valet tags have a bar code and number that they scan as they load. You should always make sure you detach the end with the information just in case something goes wrong. I had never thought much about this until I had two mishaps with baggage…1)A AS flight BOI to PDX with a valet tagged bag. BOI does let you put the tags on yourself, only the baggage handler does that and they didn’t put mine on. Luckily, I was waiting around with my husband (his bag was properly tagged) when someone came over to see why we hadn’t gone inside to the terminal. I explained the situation and then saw my bag coming out of the cargo hold. They retrieved it but gave me a look like I was an idiot as they handed it to me. 2) A nonstop UA flight DEN to IDA. Arrived in plenty of time, delayed 2 hrs, gate never changed but my checked bag never made it to IDA. I received it the next day since there are limited flights to IDA. Same thing happened to my husband 3 days later (same flight). So glad I had my luggage tags and now I always make sure I have my tags and take the end portion of the valet tag.

  8. Flew into LAX one time during a United work slowdown over a union contract. The baggage handler’s didn’t deliver the luggage to the carousel for over 3 hours. It was a miserable and infuriating situation for an entire plane load of people. Why the employees would punish the passengers for an issue with management I’ll never understand.

  9. There’s a reason why people have names. So you can know who somebody is talking about. What’s the point of saying P? Because you know we know P stands for Precious and that’s how you know we know who you are talking about. I would rather you just make up the names of the people you interact with if you are just going to omit the names. I still think you should think about explaining why you feel it is necessary why you need to omit people’s names in your stories because you haven’t done that yet. This is really frustrating because I don’t understand why anyone would not say someone’s first name? If that’s the case, why give your children names in the first place?

  10. Glad to hear you got your bag. Despite some good efforts by caring front line staff, the bad apples ruin the bunch. I’ve seen similar things all the time in customer service, especially from airlines. Policy requirements like, “Fill out this form” even though they aren’t relevant to you situation is a good example of what is wrong with the service industry. That and the default assumption all customers are idiots is really quite frustrating.

  11. lucky,

    So, how did your bag end up on American Airlines Flight #22 ?

    What was the process there? Had they missed your AA180 transfer of luggae?

    And, apparently AA22 was quite delayed that night, perhaps a blessing for you.

    Just asking because it seems there a just a few missing points here…how did your bag come from SLC-LAX-JFK? Who pulled your bag, when…and why didn’t anyone tell you it was coming on AA22 as opposed to your flight (AA180) ??

    Can you fill in those datapoints for us, Ben?


  12. None of this is surprising of aa staff. While admirals club and flagship lounge staff seem to be much better, I’ve had many similar experiences. If you keep flying domestically I doubt this will be your last one either

  13. You just have to look at baggage loss/destruction by airlines as an opportunity to update (and upgrade) your bag and its contents.

  14. jkealing – I have had the same experience in Barcelona on three visits there. That airport is a joke with regards to getting your luggage. Considering Barcelona is one of the biggest pick-pocket capital of the world, not only do tourists get robbed of their valuables in that city, it seems travelers also get robbed of their time at the airport waiting for their luggage.

  15. Yes, that’s why I’ve been a member of the Admirals Club all these years — for when things go wrong.

    But you still left us hanging a bit over how you and your bag finally met up with each other. A 3:00 a.m. “solo” arrival when you’ve already come and gone, after all, hardly ends the story.

    I’ll leave it to another commenter to enlighten Jack Buck. And Jack, if you’re reading, you might want to go back and read the prior installments of the saga before commenting any further.

    As for me, I’m surely enlightened by the story since the fact that valet bags are bar-coded and tagged is net new information for me. I had always thought that the valet process was all just a disorganized free-for-all — and one that I didn’t trust at that. I’ve always therefore been a no-wheels, small soft-sided bag sort of guy even (or especially!) on business trips.

  16. As you basically state – It’s nice to have someone simply listen. I agree! Recently had a service issue at the gate with Alaska Airlines regarding a carry-on bag that didn’t go well and provided feedback. Within a day I had a reply from the station manager that was personalized and acknowledged my concerns.

    If it had fallen on deaf ears I would’ve started to feel that they are no different than most other carriers, but instead it just reaffirms my belief that overall they stand out in providing a positive customer experience and try their best to do so. That’s why I hope they remain stand alone and will support them as much as possible with my business.

  17. Do the American express carriers not provide tags with tracking numbers for plane-side bags? When I fly United Express flights, every bag is given a light green bag tag with a tracking number and a barcode that can be detached. If I’m transferring from one express flight to another with the same tag the gate agents handing out tags almost always ask me to ensure that I have the barcode receipt.

  18. @SAN Greg — American Eagle’s plane side valet checked bags have a red tag that don’t appear to have the removable receipt like United Express’ green tags. I’ve filled one out and just left in on the bag and reused it over and over again. It has helped identify my black look-a-like roll-aboard on the few times when I’ve actually checked it. One thing that has, in the past, irritated me about United Express is that they’ll remove my American Eagle tag. After Lucky’s story, I now see the benefit’s of United Express’ system.

  19. Snce then, assuming you’ve raised this witb AAdvantage Customer Service, American respond to the overall situation?

  20. DRAMA! That gate check or even valet check always makes me a little nervous. I pray to the flight gods that my bag makes it with me.

    Twice AA has delayed my bags…trip to Italy, 3 days delay and trip to Peru, 1 day delay.

  21. Glad to hear that it worked out. I’ve had a gate valet screw up before and ever since then I tend to check my luggage when I fly regional if its not too inconvenient.

    @ Jack Buck

    You know exactly why Lucky used P. in this post, he eloquently explained his reasoning in a previous post. Trolls like you are why we can’t have nice things like using someone’s first name.

  22. The photo appears to show the tag had a barcode. Don’t they give the receipt tag like United? Certainly they had no way to associate that tag to your reservation so having that receipt would have been the key to finding the tracking.
    Secondly, it’s a known fact that a lost bag can take up to a couple days (or more) to get back so you were actually very lucky and given special treatment by many.

  23. Did they at least treated your bag well? Did you get it in one piece? I usually carry a nice Tumi carry on because it is a “carry on” so I shouldn’t need to check it. 🙁

  24. Ben – Maybe I’ve missed it at some point (I do try to keep up!), but I would be interested in seeing a blog post detailing this logistics of your hotel hopping lifestyle and the pros and cons of living out of a carry-on bag. What is in your [precious] carry on bag? Do you pay the exorbitant hotel prices for laundry and dry cleaning, or do you seek out local laundromats? Do you stop somewhere (parents’ house?) on a regular basis for a refresh of your wardrobe? How do you fit all your pajamas/amenity kits/bottles of champagne in your carry-on? (I know I have trouble squeezing in two sets of pajamas and amenity kits on a round-trip)

    I insist you divulge these (and other) intimate details of your carry-on supported existence.

  25. @Ben – You’re killing me! Hilarious!

    Here are some quick answers: (Your questions (Q) my answers (A) )

    (Q1) Maybe I’ve missed it at some point (I do try to keep up!), but I would be interested in seeing a blog post detailing this logistics of your hotel hopping lifestyle and the pros and cons of living out of a carry-on bag.

    (A1) Actually, Ben did start out to document that very well in the early days of his newly adopted living in hotels program.

    I would suggest starting here (and check out the comments & answer section at the bottom of this page): https://onemileatatime.com/trip-report-index/

    Then, the actual living in hotels update ended around here (I believe):

    (Q2) What is in your [precious] carry on bag?

    (A2) Lufthansa ducks, pj’s, slippers and whole lot of hotel toiletries! lucky has mentioned before he doesn’t do dress-up well. 😉

    (Q3) Do you pay the exorbitant hotel prices for laundry and dry cleaning, or do you seek out local laundromats?

    (A3) lucky has stated before that he often uses local coin-operated Laundromats when he’s staying in one hotel for a time.

    (Q4) Do you stop somewhere (parents’ house?) on a regular basis for a refresh of your wardrobe?

    (A4) Absolutely! Momma lucky has a nice set, ready to go each time for a quick switch out for her favorite #1 son! Plus a handkerchief full of freshly baked cookies and a 5-dollar bill folded lovingly and placed in his shirt pocket before he marches out the door again…

    (Q5) How do you fit all your pajamas/amenity kits/bottles of champagne in your carry-on? (I know I have trouble squeezing in two sets of pajamas and amenity kits on a round-trip)

    (A5) First of all, you should know that lucky cannot leave any bottle of champagne unfinished, so that’s a moot point. He regularly gives away the amenity kits in various random drawings…and besides his ducks, doesn’t have two of anything in his carry-on. After all, if he really needs something, he can always buy it along the way.

    (Q6) I insist you divulge these (and other) intimate details of your carry-on supported existence.
    (A6) If lucky had truly lost his carry-on recently to AA mishandling, perhaps we could have demanded that he produce a copy of the reimbursement paperwork to verify his valuable cargo…alas, they were reunited and we may never [truly] know!

    [tongue in cheek…of course]

  26. Ben, want to know the issue with bags taking so long to arrive on the belt at night (when not much else is going on at the airport)? Typically, there is a management employee on duty until the last flight arrives, to oversee quality / safety / etc. However, quite often, the manager on the late shift has to adjust their shift to come in early for meetings, training, etc, which leaves no manager on duty after a certain point (7, 8, 9, whatever it may be). If there’s no manager on duty to crack the whip, 50% of employees will do the absolute minimum they have to do to get by. I was a manager on the ramp for two different airlines, on the late shift for a period of time at both, and saw this happen. While it’s probably not the only factor, I’m sure it’s one.

  27. “Or to understand that my “situation” wasn’t as straightforward as filling out a form, since my bag didn’t even have a tracking number. But getting someone to listen to me long enough to understand the issue was a real struggle.”

    Lucky, how many people do you suppose believe that *their* situation isn’t as straightforward as filling out a form? How many of those people do you suppose end up being right? I’d be willing to bet that both of the unhelpful reps were… ahem, “seasoned” employees of AA. And almost nobody talks to a supervisor or baggage agent unless there’s a problem.

  28. The handling by AA is pathetic throughout.

    They should have a full review to improve their system. It felt like they are back in the 1980s with their baggage tracking and handling management.

    And yes, what is the difficulty in just listening???

    Do not try to give solutions until you fully understand the problem. I hope AA understands this.

  29. The only time I’ve felt comfortable gate-checking was in SAfrica on South African. They had a rolling cart at the bottom of the stairs (remote stand) in which you personally put your bag. A tarp is then thrown over it and it’s put in the hold. First thing out, waiting at the bottom of the stairs after landing. A ground guy is standing by the cart the whole time. Brilliant.

  30. @ Steven L. — No disagreement there, except I think unarguably my situation *was* unique. So I think I have every right to be frustrated by them being unwilling to listen.

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