December 12, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies and Baggage Claim Call Centres

I travel quite a lot, and up until now I have been lucky. Bags have been lost from time to time, but they have always made their way back to me, usually within 24 hours. I understand that bags can get lost occasionally, but the frustrating thing last time this happened was the complete absence of any reliable information.

I flew from Edinburgh to London Heathrow, then onwards to Washington Dulles where I was incorrectly instructed to enter the USA through the transit lounge. Since my flight to New York's La Guardia was on a separate reservation and my bag had only been checked through to Washington this put me in the wrong place to reclaim it, and trriggered what I would call a comedy of errors if there was anything the least bit funny about it. My bag and I were both in Dulles, but United were unable to reunite us. I was initially assured that the bag would join me on the flight to La Guardia but, inevitably, I arrived and it didn't.

So I registered a claim and went to my accommodation. It took forty-eight hours and ten 'phone calls before I was finally able to wear the clothes I had brought with me. For most of that time United's web site was telling me that the bag had been found and that it would be sent to New York on a non-existent flight shortly before I landed at Washington!

Talking to other travellers, the general impression is that baggage "help" lines are uniformly bad. My own experience was certainly terrible: I could easily have believe that there was no computer-based information system at all behind the scenes, as the different people I spoke to gave me completely different and inconsistent stories each time I called. The responses almost seemed calculated to inflame. I was particularly incensed by a conversation with one woman who, when I called back as requested after waiting two hours, insisted that I had only called thirty minutes previously, and that I should wait until next morning before calling again. It's not usually considered good customer service to call the customer a liar. The different stories I was told about my luggage might as well have been chosen at random.

Under these circumstances the airlines would do better to dispense with the call centres completely and replace them with a recording saying "Our staff are working to restore your lost bag. Thank you for your patience". This would be less irritating than the nonsense I had to put up with, would have taken up far less of my time, and would hopefully reduce costs and allow the airlines to invest a bit more in relocating and delivering lost bags.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to send a claim for reimbursement to United.

1 comment:

Loper Libby said...

We can relate! A couple of weeks ago we had items stolen from within our bag. We arrived to pick up our suitcase, come home and unpack only to find that most of what we had packed was no longer in our suitcase. I have found working with UAL claims service agents to be incredibly infuriating. The first woman who helped me refused to let me speak to a supervisor (though she completely misunderstood the nature of our claim and kept asking if we had found our bag, etc.) and told me her supervisor was not at work... she didn't know when he'd be back at work...okay he was at work... he's in a meeting... he'll be in a meeting for 2 hours... etc. her story continued to change, and it wasn't until the 3rd time i called that a representative explained to me that their computers needed 2 hours to process my claim or something. We're still waiting for results, we've had no feedback since mailing our claim 2 weeks ago. I hope yours turned out better!