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Tuesday, March 23,2010

On bags and bungling

by MIKE SOUTER

When you travel as much as I do, it’s not surprising that,
occasionally, a piece of luggage fails to arrive when it is supposed to.

In
thirty years of travel writing, my checked in bag has failed to appear
on the carousel on no more than three or four occasions. With one
exception, they reappeared within a day or two and were promptly
delivered to me at a convenient location and time. Apart from filling
in the form, no further action was required on my part.

But when
United Airlines managed to lose my suitcase between Chicago and
Lansing, a distance of just over two hundred miles, you would have
expected the matter to be resolved quickly and efficiently.

After
all, after the carousel emptied after the 29 minute flight to Lansing,
they KNEW that the bag was still in Chicago. The lady on the United
ticket desk said it had just been sent to the wrong pier and would be
arriving on the next flight, three hours later. Not a problem,
especially as they had a courier service scheduled to depart at 10pm. I
filled up the appropriate form, and departed with the promise that
‘someone would call’ with the delivery details. Reassuringly, my copy
of the delayed baggage report told me that United was ‘doing everything
possible to quickly reunite me with my property’.

Just after
11pm, I thought it wise to check the status of my baggage online. But
not only was the wrong type of bag listed, they were apologising for
the fact that the bag had still not been located.

The number to
call for assistance required much button pressing and voice recognition
before I got through to a human being. The guy had a lot of trouble
understanding me and I him. I put it down to the lateness of the hour
and the fact my brain was locked into a time zone five hours ahead. But
eventually, I was reassured that my bag was in fact in Lansing and
would be delivered ‘first thing in the morning’. The wrong entries on
the online web tracking service would, he assured me, be corrected.

When,
by 8am the following morning, the bag had still not arrived and there
was no message on either the house phone or my mobile, I checked online
again. My silver hard shell suitcase was still being listed as a grey
zippered bag. Worryingly, it still reported that they had not located
it. I was not reassured by their statement that ‘most bags turned up
within 24 hours.

So I initiated another phone call. The voice
recognition they use is pretty clever. It finds out your name, your bag
tag details and, having ascertained all of that, tells you it will pass
that information on to their baggage agent. Well it doesn’t. You have
to go through the whole rigmarole again.

The bag is at Lansing
airport waiting for me to collect I was cheeringly told. I took a deep
breath, asked why such a simple job as delivering my suitcase was being
so incompetently handled and was reassured, after much apologising (but
not a great deal of sincerity) for the inconvenience, that it would be
delivered to my address as a priority.


Two hours later, I
emailed another department at United, guest response, who’d been very
helpful and efficient prior to my trip. The lady called me within a few
minutes, apologised profusely and promised to sort it out. Apparently
the driver who was supposed to be delivering to me had been sent north
and would not be back for some time. But she had the agent at Lansing
airport on the other line and the bag would ‘certainly be delivered by
lunchtime’. As I was heading out to lunch, we agreed that I’d leave a
little note on the door telling the delivery service where to put it
and my cell phone number so they could confirm that they’d found the
house and the case was there.

Returning home at 3pm, there’d
still been no call and no sign of the bag, so I emailed guest response
again who responded by return, saying they’d been told the bag was on
its way and that the delivery company had been told to ring me by
return.

At five, having heard nothing, I went online, nothing
updated there, so I rang the baggage number again. This time I
discovered that all the button pressing and voice recognition was a
complete waste of time. Apparently the systems don’t pass on all the
information you have so painstakingly entered.

After a lot of
waiting, repeating information, spelling out details in the
International Phonetic Alphabet which is clearly not taught to the
baggage agents, I asked where my call was being handled. ‘New Delhi’, I
was told.

After about twenty minutes, the man handling my call
decided that the incident was above his pay grade, so I was passed to
Vipul, his supervisor.

As I had been waiting for so long, I asked if he would call me back.

It’s
now 24 hours since I arrived in Lansing, Michigan. There’s been no call
from the courier company. No call from Vipul. No call from United
Airlines at Lansing airport.

And there’s still no sign of my bag.

Very occasionally things go wrong.


But what credence do you give United’s claim that ‘they are doing everything possible to reunite me with my baggage’?

I rest my case.

Well I would, if I had it.

Postcript

At
7.15pm, 24 hours after I had arrived minus bag, I rang Vipul in New
Delhi. After an interminable wait, he came on the line. ‘Why did you
not ring me back?’, I demanded. ‘I couldn’t get hold of the courier
company he said. His fortune well and truly read, he range me back 15
minutes later. ‘Your bag will be picked up at eight and delivered by
midnight.’
At ten past eight, a jolly man in a woolly hat arrived at the front door. ‘Sign here’, he said.

I
enquired when he first new about my bag. ‘Ten mminutes ago’, he
replied. ‘They didn’t answer their door at midday. It happens a lot’

I asked him how much he was paid for delivering this ‘priority’ service’. ‘Four dollars’, he replied.

You might think that’s not very generous for an eight mile ride and certainly not the rate for a ‘priority’ service.

I’ve
been looking at United Airlines’ impressively worded 12 point ‘customer
commitment’. Here are extracts from points 3 and 12.

‘Once your belongings are located, they will be returned as quickly as possible’.

‘Our
Customer Relations representatives have one goal: to acknowledge
customer questions and complaints and provide prompt resolution’.


Now I DO rest my case.


Read more by Mike Souter at smashingplates.blogspot.com

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