Yesterday my wife and I returned to Australia from a two-week skiing holiday in Utah (Park City), flying each way with V Australia’s daily service out of Sydney. The flying experience (passenger comfort, cabin cleanliness, meals, adherence to schedule) was of good standard. Unfortunately I cannot say the same about my experience of baggage handling, as the following account will indicate:
- We were booked to fly from Melbourne to Sydney on VA 873, operated by Virgin Blue, ETD Melbourne 1745 hrs Wednesday 13 January, ETA Sydney 1910, to connect with VA 001, ETD Sydney 2105 hrs Weds 13 January.
- We landed in Sydney at about 1900, thus leaving two full hours for baggage transfer.
- Nevertheless, when we landed in Los Angeles my suit case failed to appear on the baggage carousel. My wife’s suit case and our two ski boot bags did appear, thus demonstrating that there had been time in Sydney to make the baggage transfer.
- The V Australia representative on the ground at LAX directed me to Delta Baggage Services, where I was told that about half a dozen bags had been left behind in Sydney and would be despatched on the following day’s flight. I should file a missing baggage report on arrival at Salt Lake City Airport.
- When I filed the missing baggage report with Delta Baggage Services at Salt Lake City Airport at about 2130 local time on 13 January the agent did a baggage trace and confirmed that my bag had been left behind in Sydney: I saw this for myself on the agent’s screen. She said that it would follow on the next flight and be delivered to my hotel.
- The following day I rang V Australia’s toll-free baggage services number in the United States with the aim of ensuring that V Australia was up with the play and that my bag would indeed be despatched on the next available flight. I found myself speaking to someone in an India-based call centre. The woman I spoke to told me that the whereabouts of my bag was not known but that everything possible was being done to trace it.
- I protested that on the evening before I had been told that it had been left behind in Sydney and the agent had shown me the results of the baggage trace on her screen. The agent simply reiterated that the whereabouts of my bag was not known but that everything possible was being done to trace it.
- I then rang Delta Baggage Services and the agent I spoke to confirmed that my bag had been left behind in Sydney and as it had not been scanned aboard an aircraft it could be assumed to be still on the ground in Sydney. This meant that it had not been despatched on the flight following mine.
- The following day (Friday 15 local time) I rang both V Australia and Delta Baggage Services again. With V Australia the story was the same – whereabouts of bag not known, everything was being done to trace it. When I started to protest that this was not what I was being told by Delta Baggage Services, the line dropped out; I assume that the agent, whose English was barely adequate, hung up on me. I rang back and spoke to someone else, but the story was the same: whereabouts of bag unknown, airline is trying to trace it.
- Delta Baggage Services, on the other hand, was able to tell me that the bag was being carried aboard the V Australia flight which would be landing at LAX at about 1530 that day (i.e. the one which left Sydney two days after me), and give me an estimate of how long it would take to forward it to Salt Lake City.
- The bag finally caught up with me in Park City, Utah, about 72 hours after I filed the delayed baggage report.
After a long career involving extensive international travel I know that bags do miss connections or get delayed for one reason or another. I also know that this is supposed to be a rare occurrence, particularly in these days when security considerations dictate that baggage should travel on the same aircraft as the customer, and that the usual reason for missed connections is delayed incoming flights leaving too little time for the baggage transfer to be executed.
What I find unacceptable about the above experience is as follows:
- It is unacceptable for baggage to be left behind when there is more than two hours to make the transfer, and within the same airline group.
- It is unacceptable that, having been left behind, the bag was not despatched on the flight the following day, taking a full 48 hours to be sent on its way.
- It is unacceptable that V Australia’s baggage services agents are not able to provide the passenger with information which Delta agents can readily ascertain from the international baggage tracing system. Even when my bag was en route to Los Angeles on board a V Australia aircraft, V Australia was telling me that the whereabouts of my bag was unknown. This is hopeless. My advice to V Australia would be to lose the India-based call centre, fast. The use of outsourced call centres for purposes like this smacks of a culture of “managing” customer problems, rather than attempting to resolve them.
It gets worse:
- My wife and I departed Salt Lake City on Saturday on a Delta flight to Los Angeles, connecting with VA 002 to Sydney, on timelines which provided for a two hour window for the baggage transfer. The flight landed on schedule.
- When we arrived in Sydney we again had the dreary experience of standing at the baggage carousel watching a diminishing number of fellow passengers retrieve their baggage, at the end of which we wandered off to find someone with whom to file a missing baggage report. Neither of our ski boot bags had come off the plane. A trace of the bag tag numbers quickly ascertained that the two boot bags were still on the ground in Los Angeles.
- By the time we had finished lodging a missing baggage report in Sydney we had missed our 0745 connection to Melbourne and found ourselves standing at the back of a long queue at the transfer desk. It turned out that the baggage had come off the flight so slowly (it took more than an hour, although we were the only flight on the ground at the time) that many of our fellow passengers had also missed connecting flights and were being rebooked, the net effect of which for us was that the following two flights were full and we had to wait until 1015 for an onward flight.
In the course of thirty years engaged in intensive international travel for internationally oriented Commonwealth Departments like Trade, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence, I can recall only two experiences of a delayed bag. V Australia managed to more than double this in the course of a single return trip across the Pacific. If anyone were to ask me for my assessment of V Australia, I would have to reply, “How important to you is it to arrive with your luggage?”.