Resolved: Lost Luggage Smackdown: @StarAlliance vs @SkyTeam

When we travel, the unexpected is often one of the best parts of any trip and often result in a different view on a variety of topics.  An amazing dining experience at a local restaurant can inspire us to be hungry for improved culinary skills. Meeting a tour guide at a remote destination can bring a life-long friendship and have us sending friends their way for years.  If nothing else, stepping outside of our comfort zone to try something new expands our horizons and enriches our lives.  The unexpected can also appear to be a negative thing, one that could ruin what might otherwise be a fabulous experience if we let it get the best of us.  Today, lost luggage comes to mind.

In the last year, I have traveled 129, 110 miles to 41 different locations, according to TripIt who organizes it all for me, provides updates when plans change and alternatives when things go wrong.  Not once have I experienced lost or damaged luggage until the last 30 days.  Actually, not once in my lifetime had I experienced luggage problems until a sailing last month on Star Clippers’ Royal Clippers when American Airlines left my luggage behind.

In that case, I was not surprised.  A delayed first flight had us running to the gate to barely make a connection. When we arrived at our final destination and our luggage did not it nearly made sense.  Three days later, when American Airlines finally delivered our wayward bags, albeit minus a few belongings, we were happy to see it.  Still, we vowed a renewed interest in the commonly-suggested packing tip to split stuff up, swapping clothes with a traveling companion just in case luggage is lost or delayed.    This was not a new thought either.

When we first got hooked on cruise travel, a common recommendation was to pack a swimsuit and something to wear for dinner the first night in carry-on luggage.  At the time, there were no limits on luggage with airlines which had cruise lines delivering thousands of bags to cruise ship staterooms throughout the day.  There was a good chance that luggage might not be delivered until late at night and we wanted to hit the pool running then be dressed for dinner on time.  But over the years, things changed.

The introduction of airline baggage fees put a quick stop to us bringing 14 suitcases for 4 people on a cruise.  Still, by habit, we packed a change of clothes in carry-on luggage but over time that practice became less important.  But our American Airlines lost luggage experience renewed that vow and I was glad to have one extra shirt and pair of pants when, on the next trip, Air France left our luggage behind in Amsterdam while we went on to Marseilles, France.

Sitting here now luggageless in Marseilles on the eve of the premiere travel event this year, the launch of 18 Viking River Cruise longships, we turned to social media for help.

First contacting @DeltaAssist, the social helper arm of Delta Airlines and a partner with Air France, we tweeted for help.  @AirFrance was quick to respond and vowed to look into it, quickly asking “We regret that your bag was delayed. Please send us in DM your World Tracer Ref in order to help. Thanks.”  Shortly after providing that information, @AirFrance got right back to us too, tweeting “Thanks for your information! We will get back to you shortly.”

As I write this, in minutes I leave the Best Western Airport hotel in Marseilles, transferring to Avignon, France to begin the Viking River Cruises event we hope you follow along on live, right here.  Other journalists are coming from around the world for the occasion, many arriving on another flight from Amsterdam later this morning.  We hope Air France can get our luggage on that plane and to us in Avignon.  They appear to be trying.  But they appeared to be trying yesterday when I returned to the airport at nearly midnight to meet my luggage that they assured me would be on that last flight of the day.  Obviously, that did not happen.  But yesterday I was working with live people on the ground in Marseilles, not a social team and social teams have been known to move mountains.

Eventually, it might have been more like a hill, but the @AirFrance program for handling misplaced luggage worked and I received my luggage.  But it did not happen without help from an unlikely source.

On the way to identifying the take-charge person who solved this mystery, we should review the sequence of events that led to a happy ending.

  1. Chris on flight from JFL to AMS to MRS- Chris made it
  2. Luggage on same flights as above, did not make it
  3. Burned most of the day we came in early trying to track down luggage
  4. Air France said it was in Amsterdam and would be out on the next flight
  5. By last flight of the day, no luggage and a half-hearted effort from airline
  6. Next day: Off to the ship, airline will deliver luggage when they find it
  7. Back to #2 above.  Luggage actually went to Florence, Italy
  8.  Airline sent luggage from Florence though Paris and on to Marseilles
  9. 3:00PM Delivery service calls ship, says they are on the way with luggage
  10. 9:00PM No Luggage, Chris talks to ship’s Concierge about issue.

It was then that, for the first time in the process, I talked to someone who cared.   While this lost luggage thing had absolutely nothing to do with the ship, Concierge Telma cared.  In a matter of minutes, she had located the baggage and found a solution.  At 11:00PM I returned to my cabin to find that lost luggage waiting for me.

Concierge Telma may not have been the deciding factor on getting that luggage back, the jury is still out on what prompted a delivery service, closed for the day, to open and deliver.  But she cared.

I have to give credit to Air France’s social media team, they were trying, but I was left with more of a ‘they don’t care’ feeling than anything else.

Concierge Telma’s caring is very much typical of what we find on Viking River Cruises and a part of the experience that is undeniable.  Initially I tagged that as due to being on a small ship. Without thousands of passengers to deal with, Viking crew members have the time.  But proportionally, crew to passenger ratio-wise, crew members on a Viking longship have about the same odds working for or against them.

That’s where the caring part comes in and makes all the difference in the world