Baggage brouhaha: losing it at the world's busiest airport

Oh baggage, where art thou? Most lost bags turn up within 48 hours.
Oh baggage, where art thou? Most lost bags turn up within 48 hours. Photo: AP

Leah McLennan runs the full gamut of emotions when her bag fails to show up at Heathrow.

I'm spending the day in the world's busiest international airport: London Heathrow. But I won't be wiling away the day in the Bulgari, Burberry or Cartier stores. I will be spending my Saturday in the baggage reclaim hall in Terminal 5.

I've just flown in from Amsterdam and my bag has failed to appear on the carousel. I have a Virgin Atlantic flight booked for tonight through to Sydney.

The man at the British Airways' lost luggage counter tells me I need to stay in the baggage reclaim area if I want to be reunited with my backpack.

"Just wait until the next BA flight arrives from Amsterdam - it might have you're bag on it," Sunhil says.

"The next one arrives in three hours.

"If that doesn't work, wait until the one after that arrives."

I ask Sunhil if instead of waiting, I could go into London for the day and he could ring my mobile when my bag arrives and I could return and collect it.

"It's not possible," Sunhil says, explaining that once I've left the reclaim area I can't come back.

"I suggest you find a seat and wait."

I take his advice and sit on a wire seat.

But soon I'm hungry.

As I'm pregnant, hunger hits with incredible force these days.

I go back to Sunhil, who sits in front of a sign saying: "We're here to help".

I tell him I'm hungry.

"Oh dear madam, that's not good. There is no food available in the reclaim area.

"But I'll have a look and see if I can find you something out the back of the office."

He returns bearing a sandwich, a pack of biscuits and a bottle of water.

I could kiss him.

I waddle back to the seat to eat lunch and wait. And wait. And wait.

Thousands of travellers come and go. Excitedly they arrive, chatting on their mobiles. They grab their bags and rush out the doors into the arms of loved ones or a waiting taxi.

The clock rolls on to 5pm and I'm still possession-less.

I decide to exit without my bag and catch the airport train to the Virgin Atlantic departures hall.

"Are you checking in any bags today?" the attendant asks.

"No, just hand luggage," I reply.

During the lay-over in Hong Kong I buy a new top to freshen up: I arrive back in Sydney wearing an "I love Hong Kong" t-shirt.

Two weeks go by and my bag still hasn't turned up. Eventually a letter arrives.

Inside there is an apologetic letter from BA - and a cheque.

My anger at the airline dissipates. With a smile on my face I hot foot it to the bank and then into town to do some serious shopping.

HOW TO PREVENT YOUR BAG FROM GETTING LOST AND WHAT TO DO IF IT IS DAMAGED, DELAYED OR GOES MISSING:

- Label: Put your name and details on the outside of each bag.

- Remember: Take a picture of your bag or make a note of its dimensions, colour and brand.

- Check in: Avoid checking-in at the last minute as your bag may not have time to make it to your plane.

- ID stubs: Make sure you don't throw out your bag's identification stubs that are given to you at check-in.

- Don't linger: When you arrive at your destination head straight to the luggage carousel.

- Inform the airline: When you realise that your bag is damaged or missing go to your airline's lost luggage counter.

- Damaged: If the bag is damaged they will inspect it and request you fill out a form. If you can't report the damage to the bag while at the airport do so as soon as possible afterwards. Virgin Blue, for example, has a three day time limit on reporting damage to a bag.

- Delayed or lost: If the bag doesn't arrive on the carousel the airline's luggage blues counter will try to track it with your baggage identification stub. If it can't be tracked you will need to fill out a form. Keep a copy of this form for yourself in case your bag is never seen again. Most lost bags turn up within 48 hours and are delivered to your home or hotel. If the bag is still missing after several days you will need to contact the airline to start a delayed or lost baggage claim process.

- Compensation: You are entitled to compensation from the airline if your bag is damaged, delayed or lost. An airline's liability limit varies as it is governed by two international treaties - the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions. Check your carrier's website for specifics.

- Receipts: Keep all your receipts as most airlines will ask for receipts for each item of lost luggage.

- Be persistent. Airlines generally will not give you a great deal of help in your pursuit for compensation. Don't give up.

AAP

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