What I Learned About United Airlines Baggage Claim

This is a deviation from my regular posts but thought it important to document.

Summary Points

Follow these points to make the best use of your time and experience and to best ensure your luggage arrives promptly. Don’t wait for your luggage to miraculously appear at its final destination without your intentional actions to make it happen! I hope your experience goes well and that these steps are helpful.

  • As soon as you know, find a baggage claim agent nearest the luggage carousel and document the lost luggage details as best as possible
  • Call the lost luggage phone number (available approximately 24 x 7) to request that your luggage be put on the next available flight and wait until the details are confirmed. Morning calls have the shortest wait times.
  • Text message updates are nice (if the airline process workflow system actually connects with the back-end data system VERSUS simply sending a useless message)
  • Monitor the flight on the airline web site
  • Pickup your luggage
  • Close out the ticket with the baggage claim agent
  • End of story; enjoy

The Details

My daughter recently returned from studying abroad in Limerick, Ireland. On her return trip thru Newark, NJ en route to Omaha, NE, her luggage was held up in Newark.

As we were documenting all the details with the lost baggage claim agent in Omaha, a passenger on a flight 2-3 days earlier was wanting to verify the status of her luggage which was still stuck in Newark and it contained a majority of her clothing, etc.

Back to us … the agent verified we had all of the documentation (ie; phone #, web site, luggage tag id) we needed to follow up with United the next day.

The next day I called the lost baggage number and bypassed the auto-response by simply stating that “I needed to talk with an agent”. I had to state it twice as the auto-response ensured me that it could assist me better than an agent. I really wanted to talk with a real person who cared! The first call in the morning had a wait time of only 8 minutes. My subsequent follow up call the same afternoon was 30 minutes. The estimates were really accurate so for best service times call in the AM.

The agent taking my call was a bit difficult to understand but it was probably a combination of his accent and my expectations. Anyway, we progressed through the process where he verified all the important information and ensured me that I would now receive regular updates throughout the day on the status of the luggage. And he was correct, throughout the day I received the same message verbatim “United bag update for file OMAXXXXXM. We are working to locate your baggage and will keep you updated every 6 hours until we do. http://united.com/bagtrack “. Well, needless to say, this message simply showed me that they had no clue where my daughter’s baggage was and my trust barometer with United was quickly digressing. At this point, anyone could have run off with her luggage and no one would have been the wiser. My thinking is that United should have already known whether her luggage was actually in Newark and should be notifying me of that fact in the text so we can all get our actions set on the next steps. Otherwise, how did they know in the first place that her luggage was really stuck in Newark. It appears that the people and the technology are sending mixed messages in this scenario.

After receiving two(2) of these same text messages in the morning, I decided to follow up around noon to push for more action. I bypassed the auto-response again and was greeted by an agent who assured me that they had the luggage. I asked about availability of flights to Omaha that had room for her luggage. He checked a number of flights and found one arriving at ~7pm that night. Perfect! We left the call under great terms. And, then I continued to received the same text messages … “United bag update for file OMAXXXXXM. We are working to locate your baggage and will keep you updated every 6 hours until we do. http://united.com/bagtrack “. What is going on here ?! I know you know that we know that you have the luggage and what flight it will be on … your text messages are really just templates that spit out the same message every 2-6 hours, provide no value and simply cause more frustration than anything.

A few more text messages later, I was on the phone again. This time there was the 30 minute wait which was pretty accurate. I kept my phone on Speaker Mode and turned up the volume while I did other work and had other conversations.

I was again greeted by an agent who assured me that the luggage was on flight UA3861 arriving at 7pm. Great! The looming question is, “Why didn’t I receive that all important update via text so I wouldn’t have to waste both of our time?”. Sorry, I digress. He said to call back about 8pm to verify the luggage was checked in at the airport. I thought, “there’s no way I’m going to call back at 8pm … why would I want to put myself through that ordeal again.”

Rather than calling the number to bypass the auto-response message again, I opened my friendly browser and navigated to United.com and kept checking the Flight Status until the plane landed. It was a 10-15 minute drive to Eppley Airport where I had the luggage off the carousel and in hand within 10 minutes of arriving. I thought I would be courteous by checking in with the lost claimed baggage agent to assure her that the “whole process had worked” and that I was a happy client/passenger. She scanned the bar codes on the luggage tags and we parted … no one being the wiser that the system is broken and that simple fixes don’t need to cost a bunch of money to attain huge benefits and brand recognition and ultimately money to the bottom line of your balance sheet.

Here’s to you and yours and to safe travels during this Holiday Christmas season.

Enjoy your journey.

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