Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lost loggage stories are endless, as are the resolutions

Luggage carts at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Photo by Sue Frause.

The airlines have been fairly kind to me over the years. Outside of a harrowing and turbulent trip in a "running on empty" prop jet somewhere over the mountains of Southern California years ago, I've experienced no major glitches while racking up frequent flier miles. No airsickness, no food poisoning, no skidding off runways, no crashes and no lost luggage.

Until Italy. That's where I lost my luggage. Or to be more specific, that's where Northwest Airlines/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines lost my luggage. It was hot, crowded, smoky and very Italian when we landed in Rome on a sunny September afternoon. As the passengers surrounded one of the many carousels, I assumed my bag would join the rest of the cargo headed for The Eternal City. It didn't. So I waited and eyeballed the bags as they slowly rumbled into the welcome arms of weary travelers. I reached for nothing.

Losing your luggage in Laramie, Wyoming is one thing, but being plunked down sans suitcase in this 2,700-year old settlement on the banks of the Tiber River is an entirely different scenario. Especially after being up for nearly 20 hours and sporting language skills that were limited to si, per favore, grazie and buon giorno!

I knew I should have studied the airport section of my phrase book for such emergency messages as Aiuto! (Help!) and Puo pariare piu tentament, per favore? (Could you speak more slowly, please?). But we're in Rome, and we need to do as they do. Which means, what's the big rush? Domani is a way of life for Italians, and tomorrow is sometimes good enough.

Nearly three hours after landing, a growing group of disgruntled travelers was handed an official letter from KLM by the frenzied Alitalia agents who were trying to handle the fiasco as best they could.
"La preghiamo di voier accetare le nostre sincere scuse per il disagio causatole. Le assicuriamo che la nostra compagnia fara il possible per evitarie ulteriori problemi."
Oops, wrong side of the form.
"Please accept our sincere apologies for the difficulties encountered with your baggage. We can assure you that we will make all possible efforts to avoid any further inconvenience."
Those efforts included filling me out a Property Irregularity Report and the being told that the bags could be on the next KLM flight from Amsterdam. But here's the rub. They had NO idea when that flight might be. Domani! Domani!

I went for the drama. Sauntering over to an Alitalia agent, I burst into tears. She was obviously caught off guard by my watery eyes. "Signora, don't cry!" she responded, while handing me a special phone number to check on the status of my bag. I left the airport awash in frustration.

I phoned every day, and the lost luggage report changed accordingly. On Wednesday, they located my bag. On Thursday, it mistakenly ended up in Bangkok. On Friday, it was back in Rome. Unfortunately, we were on the train to Florence. On Saturday, my bag arrived, and was waiting for me in our rented farmhouse in Tuscany.

So how did I handle no luggage for five days? In addtion to wearing the same wrinkled uniform I left home in, I developed horrible blisters on my feet, forcing me to buy two pairs of Italian shoes. Lack of fresh undergarments necessitated the purchase of those items, pronto! I got a real deal on a six-pack from an outdoor vendor just around the corner from The Vatican. I wonder if the Pope hops there?

But I did scold myself for not purchasing flight insurance, which would have paid me $200 a day for the inconvenience of it all. But there is hope. Northwest and KLM said they would reimburse me for the purchase of "essential personal items." I wonder if that includes copious amounts of red wine?

It's a nice gesture, but I'm asking for one more thing: the frequent flier miles earned by my bag on her journey from Amsterdam to Bangkok to Rome. It's worth a try.

Note: I sent a letter to the President & CEO of Northwest Airlines, along with a copy of my column. Although they did not give me the frequent fliers earned by my bag, I did receive a $200 coupon good for any future flight.