Beware British Airways

We live in the boonies – no straight flights here. Lost luggage is not uncommon. One day two pieces arrived at our door from two different airlines – our son-in-law and my husband had lost pieces on separate flights from separate countries that week. Another time, my husband wasn’t allowed on a better connecting flight because he wouldn’t be traveling “with” his luggage which had not yet arrived – understandable in terms of home land security, perhaps, but the piece did not arrive with him but days later.

This Christmas my son-in-law’s parents, eager to see their grandchild, missed a series of connections and ended up quite late. Not surprising. And then, inevitably, all four pieces of luggage were missing. After hurried runs to stores for toiletries & wearing their son’s shirts for a day or two, three appeared at the local airport. My son-in-law spent the next ten days phoning & e-mailing British Air Ways (whose system apparently consists of looking around when hassled and promptly forgetting the problem after hanging up.)

As luck would have it, this piece had gifts for their grandson, knitted caps & scarves for their daughter-in-law, heirlooms to be presented and gifts from German friends – all gone. Most irreplaceable was the baptismal gown that matched Heidi’s skills as a seamstress with her love as a grandmother. If it appears – increasingly unlikely – it will be too late for the ceremony this weekend in St. Louis.

When I was my children’s ages, we thought of flight as interesting and social. We could also set our watches by the Burlington. Sure, life is easier – 16-hour-drives remain taxing and I remember when flights, like talking long distance, were rare luxuries, seldom indulged in except for major events like funerals and weddings. Instapundit linked to speculation on the future – though “improvements” seems better for mating than relaxing. Ships have tapped a market – bridge cruises, magazine cruises, alumni listening to lectures in Athens cruises. My dentist does most of his in-service training for his staff and himself in exotic locales; the pictures in the office feature more umbrella-drink toasting than dental hygiene classes. Travel has become many things, but British Airline has a way to go to make it merely civilized.

And this is noted under customer service – though it might be better put as “or lack thereof.”  My son-in-law has been muttering from the beginning that British was the worst; it turns out that “worst” is by a long shot.  A case against the airlines argues “British Airways loses 23 bags per 1,000 passengers carried, about 60 percent more than the industry average and twice as bad as the worst U.S. carrier.”

9 thoughts on “Beware British Airways”

  1. My sympathies. I don’t understand why airlines are unable to keep track of checked baggage. Shipping companies seem to be able to do it with many fewer errors.

  2. I’ve had two unpleasant experiences with British Airways:

    1)I was stuck in France without any luggage for a couple of days because BA had lost it.
    2)On a flight from London to the US, the airplane, which had been baking in the sun, had no ground A/C connected, and the on-board A/ wasn’t running. It was an hour or more of heat-soaked misery. I suggested to the cabin crew that they at least ask passengers to pull their shades down to keep the sun out, but this evidently wasn’t in their procedures manual.

  3. A search on the internet will soon tell you that BA are probably the worst airline in the world for losing luggage. It beats me how airlines can lose bar-coded bags. In my latest encounter with BA they lost one crate of a 2-crate shipment scientific apparatus carried as excess baggage. We were unable to carry out our scientific survey and BA refused to refund any of the excess baggage charges we had paid. An internet search will also reveal that in London a firm of auctioneers regularly auctions off “lost” BA luggage. It would appear that when BA lose your bags it is cheaper for them to pay you the pathetic amount they are legally obliged to rather than mount a proper search for your luggage. Of course this also depends on who you are – apparently Posh Spice (Mrs Beckham ) received a handsome payout when they lost her bags. From now on I avoid British Airways like the plague.

  4. Jonathan,

    I don’t understand why airlines are unable to keep track of checked baggage. Shipping companies seem to be able to do it with many fewer errors.

    I’ve wondered about this myself. I think couple of factors might dominate:

    (1) Unlike shipping companies, airlines cannot mandate a large, standardized machine readable label on every piece of luggage. The marvelous efficiency of shipping companies today largely depends on those labels. If shipping companies relied on tiny, often hand written tags, read by humans to route packages, they would suck to.

    (2) Government control. Airlines must operate out of facilities usually designed and operated by governments. They can’t build their own baggage handling system from the ground up. They have to shoehorn their own ideas and procedures into existing systems. Worse, every airport is pretty much a custom job. You don’t see anything like the level of standardization seen in the facilities of shipping companies.

    (3) Like most customer service complaints, airlines just don’t care. Airlines still don’t face competitive pressures like other industries and, frankly, the tremendous speed advantage of air travel consistently trumps all other factors in market place. People will put up with a lot bad service to get places quickly.

    I think an obvious improvement. is to create a standardized system of machine readable RFID tags that could be clipped to luggage. That at least would get rid of the primitive labeling and routing system. I also read about one business traveler who seriously suggested shipping one’s luggage via Fedex and just carrying on a few immediately necessary items on the plane.

  5. Re: Using FedEx

    I use FedEx or UPS to ship luggage all the time. Not only is it more reliable, it makes clearing security, customs, etc. easier. And if you declare the actual value of what you ship, you can that back.

    For US travel, I try to ship a day or two early. That way I can use FedEx Ground/UPS Ground — much cheaper.

  6. Shannon,

    AFAIK airlines already use machine-readable luggage tags. I think your third answer — airlines don’t care — is the correct one. It’s not that they don’t face competition but that they don’t (yet?) compete on their luggage service.

    The fact that govt controls many parts of airport operation is, I think, a red herring. Govt also controls security checks, yet some airlines do what has to be done to keep passengers from waiting too long (e.g., Southwest at BWI has its own employees stationed around the security screening area).

    I’ve long wondered why FedEx doesn’t direct some of its marketing toward air travelers. FedEx Ground service is inexpensive, lets you insure your luggage for full value, and offers great convenience (home pickup and delivery) as a tradeoff for the added cost of shipping as opposed to checking your bags. Also, there are often FedEx facilities at large US airports. Partnerships between shippers and rental-car and hotel companies might also make sense.

  7. I remember reading somewhere that, in the glory days of passenger rail, it was common for people to have their baggage picked up at home and delivered to their destination at the other end, rather than hauling it with them. Of course, this probably started in the days of 200-pound traveling trunks.

    One problem with reinstating the system now is that so much business travel is on very short notice.

  8. If it is any consolation, BA lost the Duke of Gloucester’s (he’s the Queen’s first cousin) luggage last year when he flew into St. Louis. I know; he spoke at an event I was attending. They can’t even keep track of the Royal family’s luggage…..

  9. I’m actually surprised some luggage maker hasn’t embedded their luggage with those chips Walmart uses for inventory. Some association could allocate a few billion numbers to each manufacturer. Walmart knows exactly what is on a pallet by passing a scanner over it. Give each piece of luggage a unique number, run a scanner over it at check-in, and it could be locacted anywhere it visited. When it was lost, tell the airlines the unique number rather than “a light brown, medium sized bag with a zipper on the side and a small rip at the corner.” (It’s lost because the airlines system obviously doesn’t work.)

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