A travel fiasco draped in stars and stripes

By Ken McManus (China Daily)
2007-03-02 11:09
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Everyone has to get away sometime. As much as I love living in China, I needed to return to the United States to see family and friends and settle a few personal matters. So, I chose the Spring Festival holiday to build my vacation.

I just wasn't ready for the travel adventure I experienced, both traveling to the States and then traveling in the States. The inventory:

Snowstorm (1)

Episodes of lost luggage (2)

As frustrating as traveling in China can be sometimes, it had nothing on this fiasco draped in the stars and stripes.

If that's true, how did the American airline - which transported my checked suitcase to Chicago without incident so that I could go through Customs - manage to lose my bag on the last domestic leg?

Oh, they found it. Somewhere. Probably in Norway. But when I called the toll-free number, I found just how cold and impersonal making phone calls has become.

Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 63 to talk to the Easter bunny. And then another level of "press 1 to and press 2 to" nonsense. Why can't I just talk to a human being?

Anyway, the airline promised to send me the suitcase by a package "express" company and I would see it in two days. Two days? What's express about covering 200 kilometers in two days? The Old West stagecoaches in the 19th century could do that!

Instead, I was traveling to Detroit the next day and told the airline I would pick up my suitcase at the airport on my way there.

The trip to Detroit to visit my cousins was wonderful. But the next leg was a nightmare.

A snowstorm had shut down Chicago's Midway Airport, and snow was already falling in Detroit. Since my flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, was supposed to stop in Chicago first, the airline offered me a different route - through Nashville, Tennessee. But by the time the flight loaded, left Detroit and arrived in Nashville, my connecting flight had already left.

No worries. The airline paid for a hotel room for the night, and I left early the next morning. But where was my suitcase? It wasn't on the carousel in Nashville. All kinds of other luggage was - bound for Boston and Los Angeles and London.

When I asked about my bag, I got an education about something called "voluntary separation". Sounds like a divorce proceeding.

In short, it means if I change my route to reach my destination, the airline can't guarantee my bag will follow the same route.

Finally in Albuquerque, my friend Robin picked me up. But was my suitcase there? Heck, no.

Another thing about voluntary separation: The airline will look for my bag, but they won't call me; I have to call them.

They found it, though. I picked it up four hours after I arrived.

Later, the airline wanted my feedback on their service. Hah! I felt like saying: "For comments on the in-flight food, press 1. For comments on the luggage service..."

(China Daily 03/02/2007 page20)