American Airlines earned an enemy

By David Heinemeier Hansson on April 25, 2013

Air travel is one of the wonders of modern society. Millions of people transported millions of miles every year. A world shrunk down to the distance of a red eye. It's a marvel that it all works!

Of course, like any system, there is variance and it doesn't always quite work. For example, the baggage belts are based on an honor system: You only take your bag. Naturally, some bags are going to be wrongly taken out of either malice or mistake. That's where our story begins.

While my wife waited at a gate in London for a stroller for our son, someone beat her to the baggage belt and took her suitcase. A bag filled with all the clothing, toys, and that priceless blanket from Grandma for Colt, as well as Jamie's laptop and other belongings. (No, she shouldn't have put a laptop in a checked bag, but when you travel with an infant and your carry on is already packed to the tilt with diapers, wipes, and chew toys, that happens).

Of course, that's not what the baggage service for American Airlines in London told her. "Your bag isn't even in the system, ma'am. It's probably still in Los Angeles, but we don't know where." That later turned out not to be true. A call to the American wing of AA showed the bag dutifully made the journey to London, all nicely recorded in the system. Strike I.

The 5-day trip, spent wearing the same clothes, hassled with finding new baby belongings in the UK countryside, passed without any good news. No one had any answers about the lost bag. It wasn't until three days after we landed back at LAX that we received a call from Heathrow: The person who took her bag was part of a tour group and had called the baggage service to let them know of the mistake. They'd be bringing it back to Los Angeles the following Monday (5 days later). Wonderful, right?

Wrong. After hearing the news, my wife immediately called back to get them to speed up the process. After being without her bag for almost a week, she didn't think it unreasonable for them to go to the other party and have the bag recovered and delivered via currier. No reply. Another voice mail, another day. No reply. Same story for four days in a row. No replies. Odd, odd indeed.

So we're eagerly awaiting the bag to be returned that Monday, even though four voice mails were left with AA London and nobody ever called back to confirm. Monday comes, Monday goes. No bag.

Then we learn after spending hours on the phone being bounced back and forth between two countries and myriad of departments why London never returned our call: When the passenger who took our bag called, the baggage office didn't take ANY notes at all. No name, no phone number, no return airline, no nothing. And now that the passenger didn't return the bag as promised, they have no way of following up. What. The. Fuck.

Now the real fun begins. First, trying to find out what actually happened since London won't call us back (no doubt ashamed of their gross negligence not recording any information on the passenger who called and their following inability to recover the now-considered stolen bag). With that story finally pieced together, we begin the game of bouncing between departments: AAdvantage Club, Central Baggage Service, Customer Service, Lost Claims. They keep saying someone is going to contact us from Customer Relations to "make this right" -- but no call or e-mail ever comes.

Everything is someone else's department. Nobody is able to do anything, but they (occasionally) REALLY APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. So we try with a few suggestions:

Basically, you're shit out of luck and we're not going to do anything to help you track down the, by now, thief who stole your bag. Even though we of course totally could.

Now what's left know is for you to file a lost claim. Of course, we won't cover your laptop. You'll have to spell out every single piece of belonging in the bag on our incredibly hostile claims form (which asks for such irrelevant facts as the size of a piece of clothing lost!). Oh, and every piece above $100 needs to come with a receipt. Oh, and the whole process can take up to THREE MONTHS to go through.

So after wasting hours on the phones with dozens of unhelpful (but occasionally fake empathetic people), we decide that we're thoroughly done with American Airlines. Never interested in traveling with them again. Problem: We have an upcoming flight about a month or two away. Surely they'll let us cancel and refund that flight given all that's happened, right? HA! This is American Airlines. No. Policy, I'm sure you understand.

So that's the end of our two week nightmare battling American Airlines. A bag lost to gross negligence of American Airlines and that asshole of a passenger who took it in the first place (who takes a wrong bag, filled with baby clothing and toys, fails to report it for almost a week, then doesn't return it at all?).

Never did someone express a true emotion of empathy at American Airlines. Never an offer to put someone with authority and competence on the case to get to the bottom of it. No offers of even token gestures for our sour experience. No nothing.

American Airlines, you are a terrible company. I hope that your disdain for helping customers in trouble catches up to you one day and you go out of business.