September 2, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

Around the world baggage delays are causing major problems for passengers returning to the skies.

This is a personal perspective on what happened to me when our bags didn’t arrive while travelling internationally in July.

Our destination was continental Europe so we flew with a European carrier. It was our first experience with this airline and definitely the last. Unlike Qantas, which is trying to repair its reputation, this particular European airline has done nothing to rectify the chaos inflicted on its passengers.

Trawl its social media sites and there are thousands of people desperate to get some answers from the carrier about when their bags will be returned.

But as with my experience, there is silence from the airline. A terrible situation from a carrier which is still marketing its way blissfully through the northern summer.

In Australia, our national carrier, Qantas is trying to repair its reputation following disrupted travel and baggage handling delays. Good on Qantas for doing something – it shows Qantas has some regard for its brand health.

After trying to get 100 of its executives onto baggage handling to address staff shortages, Qantas has gone further, with CEO Alan Joyce recently apologising for poor performance and announcing $50 flight discounts, additional lounge invitations and improving reward seat availability for its Frequent Flyer loyalty members.

But the Qantas gestures are indicative of the global chaos being experienced at airports across the world. Data from the US government has more than one bag lost for every 200 taken off aircraft. Other data points show a sizeable increase in lost and mishandled baggage.

After three years of not travelling internationally, I was excited to return to Europe in July for a four-week visit.

My major concern was about COVID and catching it while overseas with all its consequences – both medical and logistical. Who wants to have to spend time in isolation while overseas? Or even worse, who wants to be prevented from re-entering Australia?

As it turned out, we sailed through all this with neither my daughter nor I contracting COVID. But a week into the trip, following a flight from Greece to Italy, Heraklion – Athens – Naples, our luggage did not arrive. We were flying with what we thought was a reputable national carrier which, like many airlines, outsources ground handling to Goldair Handling.

You know that feeling – when you are standing by the baggage carousel, in a foreign country, a long way from home, and the last couple of unclaimed bags are going round and round. No more bags thumping down the conveyer belts. No more buggies bringing bags from the aircraft belly to the terminal. It’s an awful feeling.

This was July 17 – and on this day a most illuminating experience of customer service began. A saga which continues more than six weeks later. At the time of writing on September 1, our bags are still missing.

It’s unlike any of my past experiences when baggage didn’t arrive – I’ve never lost a bag for more than a few days. On this occasion they haven’t arrived at all. And nobody seems to care, least of all the airline that had responsibility for getting us and our baggage to our destination.

On our trip, we passed through five airports. And it seemed at most that baggage was a major issue.  Alongside baggage carousels at each airport there were hundreds and hundreds of bags left unattended. Bags which had arrived without their owners. In this period of pent-up demand, people may be getting to their destinations, but their bags are not.

In our experience, once you leave the airport without your bags all you have is a number linked to World Baggage Tracker. Nothing else – it’s a most dehumanising experience. Talk from airlines about their commitment to delivering wonderful customer experiences simply vaporises. It becomes so devoid of customer service, that it feels barbaric.

Emails, telephone calls, social media messages, checking the tracking system leads to nothing. No feedback, no updates, nothing. There is no outcome on the “first needs response” claim – a refund system for those essentials you must purchase: change of clothes, toiletries and other basics.

Under the Montreal Convention of Aviation 1999, the obligations of airlines in relation to the carriage of passengers and their baggage is clear. But in the current chaotic aviation environment this too appears to be being ignored.

And then there is travel insurance. It too is a complicated labyrinth, from which you never derive a full refund for the true value of your possessions. It is seen as the liability of the airline carrier. Further, the insurer requests receipts for all items being claimed. Imagine trying to find receipts for everything in your bags, including purchases from years ago. It’s daunting, untenable and requires a huge commitment of time and energy.

It has been a most illuminating experience – over the years my bags have been delayed for arrivals into Victoria, Canada; Florence, Italy; and Sydney, Australia. They were always delivered within four days.

This time it’s been 47 days including 21 days in Italy without them – and that was a terrible experience. And it’s not over yet.

The airline we flew with deems bags lost after 45 days. Till then, they are “delayed”.

Those personal special things lost forever as the COVID recovery reveals another unpleasant reality.

It’s going to be carry-on for me from now.