You get to your destination and you arrive at the baggage carousel but you can't find your bags. After some time waiting after you've convinced yourself it's probably at the bottom of the pile, you see a rep from that airline slowly approach you with news you can read on her face: your bags didn't make it.
What now? They probably gave you a website with a case number and a number you can call which is basically a support number where you're put on hold for ten minutes before talking with an actual person. So now you wait. You wait for your bags to be delivered, or an update on your case.
The exact thing happened to my family and me on our way to Paris. Our first flight was from LAX to JFK where we were supposed to have a layover a little over two hours. That flight was delayed (that's another story for next time), so by the time we made it to JFK, we had fifteen minutes to get off the plane, take the shuttle to another terminal, go through TSA check and run to our gate. Fortunately, my family made it to the gate, but as you can probably guess, our bags did not.
An Air France rep met us at baggage to us know that our bags didn't make the connection, but that it was already on its way to Paris to the other main airport, where they'd deliver our bags to the doorsteps of our Airbnb. We were disappointed but not too upset because they offered to deliver it to us. They gave us an ETA, a case number along with a link, and a phone number.
We went to our Airbnb and waited all day for our bags. We originally had plans to tour the city since our time in Paris was already limited, but ended up scrapping it to make sure we were home when the delivery guys came. We expected them to come around 2PM, 3 at the latest. Fun fact: They never came. I bought international credit on Skype to give the airline a call. Every time we called , they gave us the same answer: keep checking the website for updates. I did, and found nothing.
The next day, we headed over to Versailles Palace since we bought tickets beforehand. We at least got to enjoy the Palace for a few hours, and headed back to the city where we visited the Arc di Triomphe. We enjoyed the sights for a minute, and then spent over 3 hours shopping on Champs Elysees because we still haven't gotten an update on our bags and were starting to assume the worst. The next morning we were headed to London so if we didn't get our bags by that day, we weren't sure when we'd ever get them. Post-shopping, my brother and I took turns getting our calls dropped by Air France. They're really really terrible at answering their phones... When we finally got a hold of someone, they admitted they weren't sure where our bags even were, which was reassuring. We had to prepare for the worst and bought clothes to get us by through the trip, and a new suitcase for all this new luggage we just bought.
Towards the end of the night, my mom looked at us and said in Korean something along the lines of "it's time to take matters into our own hands." She sent my dad and brother to CDG airport where they claimed our bags would be. My dad and brother were rerouted to several people until reaching the correct person where they had been denied access because that department was about to close and asked that they return the next morning. Obviously, I can only share what my brother shared with me since I wasn't there myself, but this guy was had absolutely no sympathy and was rude AF. After some time of arguing with this man, his supervisor finally came and spoke with them. After some more time of arguing and trying to convince them, she gave my dad access to the Air France luggage storage room, where all unclaimed bags go with a very limited amount of time to find all of our bags. Since everyone had packed their own bags, my dad wasn't sure which bags belonged to us... But, my dad being my dad, was finally able to find every one of them. They took an Uber back to our Airbnb with 4 suitcases in hand.
My dad described the luggage storage room being this crazy huge room filled with bags, and I thought of all other people who had their luggage delayed and never got a chance to actually go inside that room to find it. Due to airplane policy, I'm sure a lot of these people's bags were just marked as "lost" after 21 days when they could have gone and found it themselves. The system they use to track baggage is tragically faulted and hugely lacking. The people working with this system appear incompetent because of the lack of information they're even given. There is too much room for error and miscommunication that nothing gets done. I think often of what would have happened if my dad and brother never went to the airport themselves. Air France would still claim they don't know where our bags are, and probably wait to mark it as "lost" and just pay us the minimal fee to compensate for it, while we would have to compensate in other ways.
Since, we've filed a claim to Air France asking them to reimburse us for all of the clothes and toiletries costs, which we're still waiting on. Lucky for us, we bought our plane tickets and the new clothes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which I'll be filing a claim for if Air France does not reimburse everything, so I'm confident that everything will be covered. However, no money could cove the cost of our time in Paris. We didn't get to sightsee because we were busy waiting for the delivery guys, or out shopping for new clothes; and we were stressed for those two days wondering if we'd ever see our bags again. They won't be able to reimburse us for that time. It's a crappy situation and not exactly how you want to spend your trip.
If there's anything I would have done differently: It would have been to subscribe to an international France number from Skype so I could have given it to Air France to call me when they arrived. Sure, they would never have called, but at least I could have spent the day touring the city until they called, and for me to call them periodically so I could at least enjoy some time there rather than worrying theh entire time.
Once I got back from Europe and told this story to my friends and colleagues, I heard too many stories of how the airline lost their bags or didn't track it correctly, leading to a ton of problems. Again, I was lucky enough to have my Chase credit card willing to cover whatever the airline didn't. But I would HATE for this to happen to any of you! Do yourself a favor and make sure you take protective precautions in case something like this happens to you!