Dear Lufthansa: It’s the small things that matter.
This is a long story, so bear with me. I know the Internet is full of disgruntled consumers venting their spleen about minor inconveniences in the hope of scoring some free stuff or a refund or whatever, and normally I wouldn’t do this. I know that accidents happen, and that nobody’s perfect, and that a major airline is a vast machine in which sometimes details go wrong. That’s fine (so long as the details that go wrong don’t affect flight safety). But when things do go wrong, you need to own up to them and make them right again. And I’ve been trying to get you to do that for a week and a half, but haven’t even had anything beyond an autoresponse from your customer relations email address. So here we go.
I flew with my wife and our five-year-old daughter from Zürich to Frankfurt to Atlanta a week and a half ago, to celebrate the festive season with the US branch of our multinational family. The night before I took our three bags to Zürich airport and checked them in, and feeling all smug and organised we took off the next morning for the first leg of our flight to Frankfurt. Frankfurt airport was busy and the line for the document check when transferring to the US-bound flight was crazily long, but hey, it’s the festive season, so these things happen. We spent two hours waiting at the end of the runway, strapped into our seats, when an ATC radio broke down and stopped departures for 90 minutes. Okay, these things happen too. We found after takeoff that your inflight wi-fi service wasn’t working despite being installed — shame, as that’s a major selling point of your long-haul routes. Well, these things happen too. Rather the plane take off with the wi-fi not working than it not take off at all, and all this is really just a run of bad luck.
We arrived at Atlanta to the latest in a series of minor annoyances. Your staff at the airport paged us at the carousel to let us know that one of our bags hadn’t made it onto the flight — as it turns out, our daughter’s bag, with her toys and books and PJs and Christmas presents and chocolate for the family and stuff. It also contained an old laptop we were going to give away, and a few library books. They did the right thing — meeting us with a ready-filled PIR, taking our details, apologising and saying that it’d be arriving on the next day’s flight and forwarded to our final address in Pensacola, FL. Okay, we thought, things happen, and the staff handled it well and professionally. So we stopped off to buy some emergency PJs and overnight stuff to keep her going, and headed down to Florida after a night’s sleep.
There was no news on our bag the next day, which I’ll call day two. We called your baggage call centre, who cheerfully informed us that it was en route from Johannesburg, South Africa via Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, Australia. Er, wait, NO. That makes no sense, we said. The bag wasn’t supposed to go near any of those places. How odd, they said, and said they’d send a telex to Atlanta.
On day three, I called again (and checked online) and got the same message — good news, your bag is en route to Melbourne! Uh, no it isn’t, I said. At this point I decided to drop down to Pensacola airport and talk to the Delta people there — after all, the bag was going to be eventually delivered by Delta as they’re the only people to fly ATL-PNS. The lady at the Delta counter was incredibly helpful and was able to track the bag as far as being scanned in at Atlanta. She even phoned the Atlanta baggage people and asked them to see if they could track it down. They were able to pinpoint it as being in Customs. Great, she said, and asked them to leave a note to forward it right away when it arrived. We might even get it the same day, all going well. Full marks to Delta!
In the evening we got a call from the Lufthansa baggage folks in Atlanta (who have been very helpful throughout, I must emphasise) to say that they were very puzzled too, hadn’t found the bag, and they would do their best to track it down as the first order of business when they returned to work the day after Christmas. They agreed that the Melbourne stuff on the record was just misinformation and it had to be in Atlanta, but couldn’t remove that status. Okay — what’s important is where the bag physically is and what the tags on it say, so a ghost in the machine shouldn’t mess things up too much.
On day four nothing much happened. It was Christmas Eve. Same goes for day five, Christmas Day. The Lufthansa flights to ATL didn’t run on those days, so the local staff weren’t at work. Fair enough. I think at one point I called the call centre again for a laugh, just to check they still thought it was going to Melbourne. They did. I asked them if they could fix it. They said they’d send another three telexes — this time to all three of ZRH, FRA and ATL to ask them to sort it out amongst themselves.
On day six I dropped by Pensacola airport again in the morning and spoke with the Delta baggage folks. This time they were able to track down the bag to the point where it had been delivered to a Customs carousel in the international Concourse F, and also saw that the lost bag report was flagged as “suspended”, which was confusing. Things finally became clear when I phoned Lufthansa at ATL directly (rather than using the call-centre number) that afternoon.
The bag had vanished because it had been stolen. Yep, stolen while in transit, after clearing Customs but before being redirected to PNS for delivery. We’re not just talking about stuff being stolen from a bag, we’re talking about the whole bag being stolen. While in the airline’s custody. They had CCTV video of it happening and everything — a women simply stopped off at the Delta desk briefly before grabbing two bags and walking briskly out of the terminal. And it had taken this long to find out.
The people at Atlanta were rightly horrified, and extremely apologetic. We had to phone the police ourselves to make a report as they wouldn’t accept a crime report from the airline (we’re the owners of the stolen goods). The Atlanta PD at the airport have registered the crime, spoken with your staff and presumably have looked at least briefly at the CCTV. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see the bag or its contents again. I’m sure insurance will cover it, and it’s just stuff. But at the same time I had to comfort a distraught five-year-old over the loss of all her things. What do you say to a child who is sobbing that “I knew we were going on holiday somewhere there are bad guys!”?
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much they could do at Atlanta about resolving the situation. There isn’t a direct phone number for Lufthansa customer services they can give out, so all they could suggest was emailing in our problem so that your Customer Relations people could liaise with us as far as making things right was concerned. The bag was in your custody, after all, and until the bag’s delivered to us it’s your responsibility to make sure it doesn’t simply vanish.
We sent an email to Lufthansa customer relations on day six. In it we asked four questions, which I’ll repeat below for your reference. We don’t want much — just an apology and compensation for the loss of our daughter’s possessions. I’m not even asking for compensation for the fact that we have spent a substantial amount of time on our holiday dealing with first lost luggage and then the fallout of having a bag stolen — the hasty purchasing of replacements, the distraught child who told us she was scared that the bad guys who stole her bag were going to come back and threaten to kill us (yes, really), the worrying about insurance claims, dealing with the police, the constant chasing of the airline. It’s now day eleven, and we’ve heard nothing from you in five days other than an autoresponse saying you’re terribly busy. Maybe you are, but the complete radio silence on the part of the only people who are able to sort this situation out and make it right is just the final cherry on the top of what has been an utterly lousy and holiday-destroying experience.
I’d like to hear from you. But as you don’t seem willing to communicate in private, I’ll repeat the four questions we asked in our email here:
- How on earth did this bag get into a position where it was able to be stolen while in Lufthansa’s custody?
- Why was Lufthansa’s own baggage tracking service unable to tell us anything about the status of our bag?
- How will Lufthansa be able to compensate us for the loss and for the disruption to our Christmas holidays?
- We will be flying back to Zürich via Frankfurt on LH445 on 1st January. How can I be confident that we won’t experience any further problems?
Thanks for reading! You can get in touch any time. Looking forward to hearing from you. I want to emphasise that all the individuals we’ve dealt with — especially LH staff at Atlanta and Delta staff at Pensacola even though we weren’t on a Delta flight — have have been helpful and done the best they can for us. It’s at the corporate level that you’re letting yourselves and us down, and letting us down badly.
— Mike (and Tara, and Sophie (5))
PS — The last time we flew Lufthansa to the US for Christmas you lost my wife’s bag for five days, so you’re now 2 for 2 on losing bags. I know that’s just a statistical freak, but it’s a heck of an unfortunate coincidence, isn’t it?
PPS – It’s now day twelve, and I’m updating this post from one of your A330s on the way home. Thanks to your social media people for noticing this post and escalating it yesterday, but two points to note – firstly, we still haven’t heard a peep out of you formally, and secondly, I just checked for a laugh and the online tracking for the stolen bag still claims rather optimistically that it is on its way from Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, via Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.
PPPS — Hello from day thirteen. The thing that’s really bugging me at the moment is why, at least according to the CCTV, the baggage thief stopped off at the Delta desk before lifting two bags. Why? Was it an attempt to cover their tracks by making themselves look as if they were supposed to be there, or had they received information that an easily-stealable bag was known to contain a laptop good for a few hundred bucks and a selection of pyjamas suitable for a five-year-old? This is starting to get all conspiracy theoryish.
PPPPS — Hey, it’s day seventeen! I wrote you another letter to celebrate.