Stranded bag picks up plenty of airline miles


We have to consider ourselves lucky to live in the United States for many reasons, but if we stop to think about it, customer service should probably be at the top of the list.

I realized this when I was reading last week about the millions of unfortunate travelers in China, all trying to get home for the Chinese New Year holiday during incapacitating snow, stranded in stuffed, stuffy and stalled trains for hours and hours without food, water or a clue as to when their fortunes would change.

By contrast, I came into work on Wednesday and there was an e-mail from Travelocity, caring enough to send a colorful “Welcome Back” greeting and an inquiry saying “Let us know how everything went,” in reference to last weekend’s trip to Helena.

I was hoping to tell Travelocity how we had made two good drives through the Swan Valley (all deer were successfully dodged) and that the Helena Capital gym was not really ideal for a high school wrestling tournament, as a poorly placed rail often made it impossible to see the action.

But Travelocity didn’t actually care how my son did in the tournament, and only wanted to know how likely I was to recommend their site to friends, or how satisfied was I with Travelocity’s service on this trip, rated on a scale of 1 to 5.

Still, it’s doubtful those people in China will return to an e-mail from the train companies asking them to fill out an electronic comment card on their travels. Probably for the best.

One American airline would receive mixed reviews had I been given the opportunity to fill out a comment card after an early-morning flight to Denver in December for a pre-holiday family visit.

I arrived safely and on time at Denver International Airport, but my luggage didn’t. I waited around the baggage carousel, and while the rest of the smug lucky passengers picked up their bags and purposefully set off to meet their destinies, I waited and waited for my suitcase to arrive. Eventually the baggage area was almost deserted and the carousel was empty.

There was a kiosk there for tracking bags, and after typing in my passenger information, I found out my bag was “In transit.” How I was supposed to respond to this was a mystery, so I found a real person in a customer service area, who said the kiosks were new and, in his opinion, worthless.

He took my information and the address where I was staying, gave me a Web site and an 800 number to call and check on the status of my bag, and said my bag would most likely be on the next flight from Kalispell to Denver, and should be delivered to my sister’s house that evening.

But as the day wore on, the Web site only informed me that my bag had not been located. I tried the customer service phone number, and talked to a very polite man who told me “thank you” after every bit of information I shared, which was a lot as he asked many questions about the bag and its contents. I started to wonder if my bag hadn’t been confiscated by the feds and if I was under suspicion of transporting illegal cargo.

I’m pretty sure the customer-service man was talking to me from somewhere near Calcutta. He seemed to know about as much as I did on the status of my bag, though he was able to definitely conclude it was not on the afternoon flight from Kalispell to Denver.

This worried me, but supposedly there was another flight possibility that night. Once again, as the night wore on, the presence of my bag did not register on the Web site. So I called again, and once again, another nice man with a very strong East Indian accent, who also thanked me excessively, told me that the bag was not on any flight he knew of.

This was getting worrisome.

All I could think was to call Glacier Park International Airport and talk to someone who actually had been within 10,000 miles of my bag. Somehow, through a complicated series of computer prompts, I was able to actually talk to a person at the airline. And through yet another stroke of luck, the woman was among the employees who had been wondering why my bag was traveling alone on the last flight from Denver to Kalispell.

It turns out the bag had made it to Denver on my flight, and for mysterious reasons, was sent straight back to Kalispell.

I guess this was a bad customer service/good customer service story, since the bag had escaped the checks and balances of the airline’s computerized tracking system, but once the bag was found, the nice conscientious people in Kalispell had it sent out as soon as possible on another airline’s flight. It arrived at my sister’s house, which is more than 60 miles from the airport, at 6 o’clock the next morning.

Whereas in China, it might have been difficult to track down my bag. It’s unlikely that many of the customer service representatives in India speak Chinese.