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I want my stuff back

I hate complaining. I hardly ever make formal complaints and I hate to cause a fuss. I’m especially reluctant to air my issues on Social media. However, I’m experiencing a very frustrating situation and don’t seem to have any other option other than writing an open letter in the hope that someone pays some attention and helps me fix a problem.

At the end of July I took a business trip to the UK as part of localizing to China. The aim was to sort out some of my personal affairs (I almost took a painting with me to take to a gallery in Newcastle, I'm super glad I changed my mind). I flew business class (which I only mention because it meant I could take 2 suitcases rather than 1). My tickets were with Air France for Shanghai Pudong to Paris, Charles de Gaulle, and then a connection to Birmingham via Flybe. As is apparently common, the Air France flight was actually operated by China Eastern airline.

I had a perfectly pleasant flight, apart from a short delay flying to Birmingham. When I arrived in Birmingham, only 1 of my suitcases arrived. Tired after 17 or so hours of travel, I reported it missing. I had to fill out a form at Birmingham airport, left my number, an email address, a forwarding address (for the luggage when it arrived) and a description of the bag. I then went to my hotel to begin my trip, generally optimistic that it would turn up shortly. It didn't. In fact, it sill hasn't.

I don’t know about other people, but generally when I travel I tend to take things with me that I need. An airline imposes a weight limit, so it’s important to pack carefully – some airlines even charge heavy penalties for going over the weight limit. So not having half my stuff for an unknown period of time became more and more of a problem. I didn’t have the stuff I needed for my trip, and I was without some important personal items I was taking back to leave with my parents. I also didn’t have any of my cold/wet weather clothes, so after a few days of British weather I had to go shopping.

My bag went missing on 26th July. The lost baggage process for Flybe at Birmingham airport is basically this;

- For the first 6 days, you need to call the airline.

- After 6 days, and up to 45 days, the case is passed over to “secondary chasing”.

- After 21 days you can begin the claims process.

- After 45 days, it is passed over to the airline to manage.

Just to highlight something; the airline has a process for the apparent possibility that a bag, someone's bag who presumably hasn’t forgotten about it, can go missing for over a month and a half. Missing from passengers who they knew exactly when and where they travelled and would stand a reasonable chance of identifying the appearance and contents. That is astonishing.

Though the process seems to have an escalation, from what I can gather there is very little actual activity to find your stuff. Whenever I have called for an update it is always the same.

“Your bag didn’t arrive at Birmingham”

“Paris said it would be on the flight on 27th” (the next day)

“It wasn’t. We’ve emailed them but they haven’t replied”

“Can you escalate?”

“Paris are notoriously slow for this. We’ll email them again, hopefully we’ll get a response tomorrow”

I am now 25 days into the process and counting. This has been a nightmare for me personally as it’s dominated the last month trying to get an update or replacing all of my stuff.

Some stats to describe the last 4 weeks;

> The number of times I have phoned the tracing teams or airport: 54 (I called multiple times a day during my trip as they would only tell me I had to wait to see if it was on a particular flight)

> The number of times I had to change my address as my trip continued: 4

> The number of times Paris Charles De Gaulle have apparently responded to an email: 1

> The number of times anyone from the airport or airline has contacted me for an update (phone or email): 0

> The amount I have been offered as compensation for the inconvenience of losing half my luggage: 0

To me this is fundamentally bad. As a passenger you place a lot of trust in the airline and airport infrastructure. Things aren’t meant to go missing at airports, and even when they do they need to be traceable, and quickly. Of course sometimes things go wrong, but the purpose of having processes is to minimize this from happening or to help fix when they go wrong. Best case scenario, 25kg of my stuff has gone missing in the airport, and the tag has somehow become detached. Worst case scenario, is that my bag has been stolen, or is in the process of being stolen (maybe waiting until the bag is declared lost, and some meager compensation has been paid?) and I’m facing a no doubt gruelling claims process as I try to convince my insurers that I’m not a thief and that what I can remember was in the case was genuinely there.

In any event, the only tool that seems to be available to anyone I’ve spoken to is to email the airport and “hopefully” get a response.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone in authority proactively involved in the process, and I’m “not allowed” to have the contact details of anyone to which to escalate it. I'm not criticising any of the staff I've spoken to. Some have been very helpful but they are all only able to operate within the process. This process, which seems more of a complaints management process than an item recovery process, means I can only ever deal with one person. Birmingham airport, because that’s who ‘owns it’, even though the case is in Paris. Flybe, because they manage Birmingham Airport, even though Air France manage Paris’ baggage handling. I have no idea what involvement China Eastern have, or any other subcontractors.

Frankly, it shouldn’t be my problem as a customer since I handed myself and my belongings over to the airline in Shanghai, on the assumption that we’d all arrive safely at our destination. Some part of this process has broken down and they lost part of the consignment, yet it seems to be down to me to actually chase it. I consider myself luckier than some in that at least I had a second case with some clothes in rather than them losing all of my luggage.

This is an open request for some kind of proactivity or interest from the airline whichever one it is; Flybe, Air France or China Eastern. Please can you do some kind of investigation into what has happened to my luggage?

All I want is my stuff back.

(As an update, Flybe are telling me that they are unable to get in contact with Air France who run the baggage handling at Charles De Gaulle. I spoke to Air France who told me that there is an International Airlines Carriage Agreement which says that the last operating carrier that is responsible for the tracing. I asked what happened in the agreement if one of the parties didn't meet the requirements (AF as baggage handlers). They told me that AF were only the marketing airline and China Eastern were the carrier. I asked whether or not China Eastern operated the baggage handling process at Charles De Gaulle; no reply yet)

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