Of Baggage and Alaska Airlines

Oh Alaska Airlines, why do you try so hard to be the bane of my life?

To get a better sense of how my family and I feel about this particular issue, let us start with my personal experience with their luggage claiming services. Earlier this summer, I had the occasion to visit South Korea for personal pleasure. To get there and back, I used two airlines – Alaska Airlines and Asiana Airlines. The plan was to get to Seattle via Alaska Airlines, and to transfer to Asiana Airlines en route to Seoul. The return flight plan was the same, to depart from Seoul via Asiana Airlines to Seattle, and then transfer to Alaska Airlines to Vancouver. The only difference was that on my return flights, I had to manually claim my luggage at Seattle and check them in with Alaska Airlines personally. Simple as pie, piece of cake. The representative at the check-in desk even made a friendly remark, saying “Ooh, to Vancouver, huh?”

When I got to Vancouver International Airport, I spent a good 45 minutes waiting for my luggage to show up on the baggage carousel, before realizing that my 2 bags that I had checked in at Seattle were missing. I immediately headed straight to the Alaska Airlines baggage service office, and was told to check the carousel for oversized luggage. To my annoyance, my bags were not there either. Upon returning to the baggage service office, I was able to file a delayed baggage report with a friendly customer service agent, and was handed a sheet of paper with my claim number. Just around midnight the same day, I received a call informing me that my luggage was found and then will be shipped to my house in Maple Ridge. And surely enough, both of my bags arrived the next day safe and sound, with no signs of pilfering. I mention pilfering because my parents had a bad experience where pieces of clothing were stolen from their bags during air travel some years back. This was especially reassuring, as one of my bags held contents that were valued at over $5000 CAD. This made us think that while they annoyed us by having my luggage delayed, Alaska Airlines was still honest about it and corrected their mistakes by shipping the bags quickly, leaving things on a positive note. I arrived in Vancouver on the 10th of July 2012, as everything was resolved by the morning after.

Now, here is the new issue. My younger sister, who is still a minor – enrolled herself in a summer course at Yonsei University in Seoul. Her flight plan was exactly the same as mine, described above. She arrived in Vancouver yesterday, 3rd of August, 2012. Surprisingly, a similar situation occurred with my sister as well, albeit only one of her bags went missing.

Note: the following three paragraphs is the retelling of her own experience and I do not claim to have seen it or that she is not telling a complete lie. But I do trust her story, and know that she has no reason to lie either.

The matter of fact is that my sister spent approximately 2 hours trying to solve this issue, while my family and I waited outside. She had waited until no more bags were being pumped out to the carousel, with only one remaining bag going around which clearly did not belong to her. She was then told by an airport employee to check the section for the oversized bags as well. Nope, nothing there. The same employee who had told her to check the oversized luggage section noticed my sister waiting there for more than a couple of minutes and advised her to go to the baggage service office at this point. I tweeted her, asking if she had arrived, and this is what I received back.

(The “another place” would be the oversized baggage section) 

So she headed to the office, only to find no customer service agent. She asked another agent who worked for a different airline at the desk next to the one for Alaska Airlines, and was told that “she” should be there any minute.

Nope. After a good 25~30 minutes wasted waiting for an agent to show up, the other agent she had asked the whereabouts of the Alaska Airlines agent earlier probably started feeling bad for my sister. He proceeded by handing her a form for claiming delayed/missing luggage and instructed her to fill it out and submit it at the Alaska Airlines check in desk after exiting the luggage claiming area. As she was heading out to the exit, one of the guards (?) by the door insisted that the missing luggage form had to be filled out right there and then, and submitted to him instead of at the Alaska Airlines check in desk. After submitting the form, she asked him if she was supposed to receive a form of receipt or claim number, but was simply told that “the airline will do all they can to locate the missing luggage.” And so she exited to our greeting arms after some gruelling two hours.

Feeling unsatisfied, we headed to the Information desk, and were simply told that we just needed to call the Alaska Airlines’ baggage claim centre later on. Being both mentally and physically exhausted, we called it a day and returned home, not feeling too worried about it thanks to my experience less than a month ago. At 8AM this morning, 4th of August, 2012, one day after my sister’s return, I made a call to the number we had received from the airport Information desk. The friendly representative first asked for a claim number, to which I replied that we did not have one for the reasons explained above. Then she asked for my sister’s full name, and managed to find the information regarding her flight. She then told me that they were still looking for the luggage, and that there probably was nothing to worry about. She also added that for further inquiry, I should call a different number and made me write it down, which turned out to be the number for Alaska Airlines’ baggage service office at the Vancouver airport. Feeling a little better at the luggage claim form being confirmed, my family and I continued on with our daily routines. Then at exactly 1:28PM, the house phone rang. Assuming that my sister’s bags had been located, I handed the phone to her. Then began this nonsense. She was informed that she had supposedly ‘forgotten’ to pick up one of her bags at the airport and that she needs to drop by to pick it up. The delayed/missing baggage claim form? They never received it, and we don’t have a claim number to prove otherwise. She even mentions that she had to work until 1AM because of my sister’s bag lying around at the office (how does this even make sense?) Stunned, she explained what had happened, but the representative was having none of it, insisting that the bag needed to be picked up in person at the airport. Let us call this particular representative Miss A. After gathering our thoughts, we redialed the number Miss A used to call us, but it turned out to be a generic Vancouver International Airport number. Hanging up, we attempted to call the Alaska Airlines baggage service office at the Vancouver airport, but only received a recording of how all representatives were busy and that we should call back later or to call the system-wide baggage report office for immediate support. Opting for immediate support, we called the system-wide baggage report office number, which was provided by the recorded message. This time around after explaining the situation and the fact that my sister was being accused of forgetting to pick her bag up, the very friendly representative offered to ship her bag to our house in Maple Ridge, free of charge. Feeling relieved, we all went back to our routine. I actually sat down to watch the quarter final match of men’s football between the Great Britain and South Korea. Life is good, right? Then came another call from Miss A, at 2:45PM. My sister picked up, and was once again told that she had ‘forgotten’ to pick her bag up and that if we wanted it shipped from the airport, a shipping fee was due. My sister is still a minor – a child if you will – and didn’t know what to say anymore, so she handed the phone to me at this point. I then explained to Miss A that another representative had promised a free shipping to our house. Nope, not a chance, according to Miss A. I try to explain to her once again that there was no way that my sister would ‘forget’ to pick up her bag, as she had waited by the carousel until well after everyone else had picked up their luggage, that she had submitted the delayed/missing baggage claim form to a guard before exiting the luggage claim area. Hell, I even tell her that there wasn’t any representative at the baggage service office for my sister to talk to.  Nope. There is no way that there weren’t any representatives there waiting to help her because they are always there until 6:30PM. This is completely all my sister’s fault because she forgot to pick up her bag before leaving the airport. I even go on to mention that a similar thing happened with me less than a month ago with their airline. Nope, this is completely unrelated. My mom, very angry at this point, takes up the phone and tries to talk some sense to Miss A. Nothing going. Infuriated, my mom hands the phone back to me and Miss A tells me that there are other customers waiting to be served and that we should call back later if we still had questions or are ready to pick up the bag. Wow. Who does she think she is? And who is she making my sister out to be? A complete idiot who can’t even tell what her bag looks like? Or someone who just decided to leave because her bag didn’t show up on the carousel after waiting for 5 minutes? She spent 2 hours in there looking for her luggage and trying to speak to a representative. Did this Miss A even listen to a single word that I said to her? And is this how they should be treating their customers? By taking us to be complete idiots? What is this idiocy?

Later in the afternoon, my sister, my mother and I decide to drive to the airport to pick up the bag, with intentions of filing a complaint. We call the number Miss A gave us (which turned out to be the baggage service office number that we tried calling earlier), but a recording once again says that all representatives are busy and that we should call the system-wide baggage report office for immediate support. We do, and the agent tells us that he will tell the office to get ready for our pick-up. This is an hour long drive, mind you, from Maple Ridge to Vancouver International Airport. Not to mention the parking fees, wasted time, and disturbance in our daily routines. In fact, my mother had to miss her volunteer activity at the CEED Centre when the organizers were relying on her to show up. At the airport, the Information desk informs us that Alaska Airlines does not have a public office and to go to the check-in desks instead. There, the long line make us cringe, but my mother still very angry, walks right up to the desk reserved for first class customers. We tell the representative that we were there to pick up the bag, and they make more comments about how my sister ‘forgot’ to pick it up. We tell them that’s not the case. A few minutes later, an elderly agent shows up to help us find the bag. While she guides us all the way down to the luggage claiming area, she asks why my sister had forgotten to pick up her luggage, to which we explain that it is not the case. She agrees that Alaska Airlines probably has some issues when I mention that they lost my luggage as well just a month ago. After the bag was picked up, its contents checked to make sure that nothing was pilfered, I ask her where I can file a complaint, and that we want to speak with someone who will listen, unlike Miss A. Alas, she informs us that there is no one that we can talk to at the airport, but instead hands us a pamphlet with a number to call.

Really? Alaska Airlines doesn’t even have a manger or someone that we can talk to? Customer services anywhere? Oh, how I want to know what the hell went on behind the scenes during this incident. Clearly, Alaska Airlines still stands by its flawed idea that my sister had ‘forgotten’ to pick up her bag. No reimbursement in sight, to say nothing of a proper apology. We will be calling the Alaska Airlines’ customer relations line on this coming Monday, and see what they have to say for themselves then. What say you, readers?


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