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Luggage Mishaps (or Hard Choices about Carry On)

Warning: long mostly boring travel story ahead (and not packing).

For the 2nd time, I encountered how partner airlines have communication difficulties. I mostly wrote this sitting in Tirana, Albania, in May, with my suitcase sitting at Washington Dulles, hoping to be reunited quickly.

As I was considering how this happened (and how to avoid it in the future), I came to no easy answer. So I thought I would give a brief rundown on the check versus carryon dilemma faced by those of us not traveling from a somewhat major airport and why I usually check my bag, even though I am carryon legal.

Factors for making a decision:

  1. Trip length: Do I catch a 30-40 minute flight from my small local airport (10 minutes from my house) or do I drive 2 1/2 hours and pay to park at DFW? For travel of a week or two, I will usually opt to drive and park (and carry on). For trips longer than that, I like flying and leaving my car parked safely at home (and check). This was a 2 month trip, so the car definitely stayed home and the suitcase checked.
  2. Layover length at DFW when I fly: my choices are usually 1 hour or 4-5 hours. Or I don’t HAVE a choice. This time was a 1 hour layover.
  3. Valet check: you CANNOT take a carryon suitcase on board my hopper flight. You must valet check and then wait for it to be unloaded onto the jet bridge in Dallas. Subtract a minimum of 10 minutes from your layover length. Then subtract 15 minutes to change terminals.
  4. Weather: What on earth is Texas weather going to be doing? If storms roll through, my first flight can easily be cancelled or delayed. This time storms, tornados, and occasional hail were happening in the area. Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio were all being issued Travel Advisories.
  5. Miles or money: with miles, I have fewer (to no) options and it means another connection on the East Coast. I am growing to love business, but I still won’t pay for it - so it’s miles when available.

All of which meant that this trip: I needed to fly from home, had only one hour for my connection, was facing the variable of lots of weather, and had an additional connection at Dulles. A small delay of 30 minutes on the first leg would mean the choice of me and my suitcase staying together and both of us missing the next flight — or me making the flight and my suitcase not. I am more important (and I keep essentials in my backpack) so I checked it. Fall 2022, same choices and I made my connection with only 3 minutes to spare as the last person on. Waiting on valet check would have delayed my whole trip by a day.

This time, all my flights worked perfectly. I had plenty of time (but not an excess), with an extra connection next at Dulles (because Miles).

Herein comes the part where I felt like a newbie traveler. At Dulles, I moved from AA flights to a BA flight (all booked one itinerary through AA). Having been stopped at Heathrow in March coming home from Madrid and forced to stand in a long line to get a new boarding pass (the Iberia-issued one would not work), I asked about that when I arrived in Dulles. Sure enough, I needed new ones. I did not even THINK about asking if my suitcase needed a new boarding pass…. Which it apparently did. Why, I don’t know. But I should have remembered to ask.

There was plenty of time for the transfer. It was marked Priority and should have been first off and handled immediately since I am Executive Platinum. But thanks to my Apple Air Tag, when I arrived at Heathrow for my next flight to Tirana, I could see my suitcase still sitting at Dulles.

Cont in comments.

Posted by
4289 posts

For the record, this happened last fall with United when I had to fly to ORD, then take a LOT flight on to Gdansk (also Miles). I needed new boarding passes (at the gate) from the LOT system in Chicago - and my suitcase had to be transferred into the system as well. For unusual reasons, I had 2 suitcases that time - one was transferred and one was not. One came with me and one did not. So, I should have remembered to ask this time when I needed new passes…..self-preservation.

I don’t really have a question (if you mistakenly read this far and wondered). But some people are quick to say “Oh, I would only ever do carry on.” For some of us, the choice is not that simple. And hopefully I soon learn to make sure my suitcase gets a new boarding pass any time that I do.

Last fall I was without it for only one night. This time was 4 nights - half of which was because I was in Tirana for 2 nights, then headed off to the wilds for 2 nights and wasn’t available; but we were reunited when I came back. I had packed well enough into my backpack to make it all that time, although there are a few things I would like to have had with me in the wilds (binoculars, mosquito repellent, hiking pole, 1 more clean shirt just to save washing). I was definitely better prepared this year, though. Plus I came out with a couple of really great stories about the process.

Posted by
1858 posts

Thanks TexasTravelmom for sharing this report. To me, it showed that even an experienced traveler can have 'transfer' issues. I wouldn't have thought to ask if my bag would transfer either. I do wonder why if AA booked the entire flight they didn't warn you at some point about the bag not transferring. However, having lived in the DFW area I know never to count on AA for customer service.

Posted by
33123 posts

there's always an interesting story from you.... goodness gracious

Posted by
4601 posts

“Oh, I would only ever do carry on.”

Well, hiking poles cannot be carried on, so you were checking a bag regardless.

I haven't had my bag delayed in so long (like the 80s) that I don't even think of bag delay as being a possibility. The thought of dragging my bag into the toilet and a restaurant at the airport and down the narrow aisle on the plane, etc, just sounds so unappealing.

Having looked at using AA points for a Tel Aviv trip, I do see how greatly the mix of airlines increases when using points, as least AA points, all kinds of interesting combinations would come up.

Posted by
4289 posts

Nigel, you know I am full of stories! 🤣 My suitcase spent one night in a car in front of an apartment building in Tirana while I was in Valbona - the delivery driver didn’t speak English or realize I was only using WhatsApp (and the first hotel wouldn’t accept the suitcase, despite me confirming acceptance with 3 different staff people as I left). So when he couldn’t deliver, he just safely kept it for me till it got sorted out by the airport people. Then he delivered promptly, kindly, and efficiently! But it was a funny day of looking at my air tag and wondering if my suitcase was having fun or was mad at me and looking for a new home.

Laurie Beth, I know, right? I am sure there is some piece of knowledge I am missing. But to be fair, this happened with United and LOT last year also. And only got (kind of) sorted at the hectic counter as I was getting ready to board in Chicago. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Had boarding passes all the way through…..

Tom, I agree. I far prefer to check, but it’s always a process to decide. If I had needed to carry on (I have to for my next trip in July), the hiking pole would have stayed home. It was a last minute addition. I have had a missing bag a number of times, but it always (except this time) shows up the following day. This time would have been 2 days later. I do pack accordingly. AA is all that flies from my home, so going from here requires OW combos. And I LOVE my Apple air tag.

Posted by
4853 posts

That extra hop from the local airport does complicate things!

I'll add to my decision making...

Distance at Connection Airport: usually Frankfurt, where I can sometimes get my daily quota of steps (and goodness, the stairs!) during my gate transfer. Even my most recent non-Schengen to non-Schengen transfer made me glad I'd checked my bag.

I like to reduce my risk, though, with....

Nights in Arrival City: an advantage of my preference for hanging out for a week or so in big cities is that it gives most airlines plenty of time to get a lost bag to me. And I have plenty of shopping options until they do!!

On my upcoming trip, though....

Number of Trains and Bus Transfers: this will overrode all my other criteria as I'm planning to be ruthless in my packing with hopes of bringing my mini roller bag. It served me well enough for a just finished 5 day local trip that I'm determined to give it a try!

Posted by
4853 posts

Additional musing here...

The thing I dislike about my typical flight arrangements is that although United is very generous with their on-board baggage allowances, Lufthansa (for my connecting flight) is not. So whatever my decision otherwise might be, it's usually overruled by them.

Another reason to try my mini roller, at least for this upcoming summer trip, when I'll be able to leave behind my usual shoulder season travel layers.

Posted by
4289 posts

Oh, good additional thoughts. Sometimes the conventional advice is to head on to your furtherest destination upon arrival and work your way back (depending on the country). And sometimes I do head straight out. But that means an additional consideration about whether to check or not, given other restrictions.

Number of train/bus transfers: that would definitely affect the size of my bag (which affects how easy it is to check). My 21” suitcase this time was bigger than I actually needed, but it gave me room for the bottle of wine from Albania, the one from Bulgaria, and the gift bottle of Albanian rakia-equivalent my guide gave me. 🤣 That did NOT help with train overheads in Germany/Poland, but I managed….

Posted by
4231 posts

It's been said on this Forum that RS doesn't read this Forum, but I wonder if there are designated staff that monitor it for more than just making sure that rules are being followed. There are so many valuable nuggets discussed here that I wonder if some are pulled for further research and then make it into the guidebooks?

Posted by
15539 posts

When you checked your bag at your home airport, did you look at the baggage tag the airline attached to see where it was being routed to?] That way, you will know where you might have to claim the bag or ask why it's not going to your final destination.

In the future, know that even if you book all flights on one ticket, the other airlines included issue their own record locaters. If you know them, you should be able to log into their website and print your boarding passes. You would have to call AA for locaters of the other airlines.

Even if you have to recheck a bag, with a boarding pass in hand, you can probably skip the line and use the bag drop if they have one.

Posted by
4853 posts

Space For Stuff I Pick Up Along The Way: now this one is troublesome because my usual solution is to bring a packable backpack or tote - well used on my last trip for weather gear between cities. But will that make the cut when I use my tiny wheeler? Maybe the tote, which doesn't take much more space than a plastic bag.

And I really do need to consider picking up a bottle of wine as a souvenir. Maybe on my last stop of my summer trip!

Posted by
10333 posts

Thanks for sharing your experience. I never thought about what happens if you change airlines on the same ticket and don’t recheck you bag. I usually prefer to carry on, but one trip last year we had a 9 hour layover at SFO because they kept changing the departure time from Sacramento. It’s a small plane from Sacramento to SFO and we have to gate check anyway, but last year we just checked out bags so we wouldn’t be lugging them around for 9 hours. We also knew we were going to be leaving the airport instead of hanging out that long. We flew United from Sacramento, then Aer Lingus from SFO. I guess I should consider myself lucky that our bags arrived with us. I hope to remember your situation the next time I have to change airlines and I check a bag.

Posted by
4289 posts

Allan, so true! But I suspect, based on Ms. Jo’s experience being an expert on Frankfurt and finding guidebook errors (and reporting), probably staff don’t monitor the forums…..

Frank II, yes, I do always check my baggage tag final routing - and that has been fine. These days, I seem to get the locator number for the partner airline in my initial ticket email. Makes it easy to reserve my seats there, when I am eligible for that. I guess I need to learn how to get my boarding passes better. On my recent return from Warsaw (AA purchased, but BA metal for both Warsaw-LHR & LHR-IAH) I could check in and download the first flight (from BA) but not the second.

And I have never had this issue for connections within Europe - but my fall trip routes me via Croatia Airlines LHR-DBV, so I will watch. The hiccup seems to be the east coast switch from a U.S.-based carrier to a European. But I had no issues in the spring with moving from AA to RJ in ORD, so I don’t know.

Posted by
4853 posts

Ok wait, now I'm confused. I regularly travel on a two airline itinerary - but always a single ticket booked through United. I check my bag and it connects through to my final destination, including my transfer to Lufthansa.

So I'm not understanding the circumstances under which my bag would need its own, second bag check slip along the way?

ETA: I see in your original post, TexasTravelmom, that you don't know why! Hmmm a mystery!!

Posted by
14157 posts

"But it was a funny day of looking at my air tag and wondering if my suitcase was having fun or was mad at me and looking for a new home."

Have you named your bag? Alphonse? Agatha?

What a great post, TexasTravelMom! Lots of things to consider. I'm flying out of a bigger airport now than I did for my first few years after returning to international travel but the smaller commuter flights where you have to gate check everything larger than a box of Kleenex really impact your whole set up.

Frank makes a good point and I think on the luggage tag it also should show your intermediate transit points as well.

Posted by
6820 posts

TexasTravelmom, wow. You may have been caught unawares a bit with the new boarding pass for your luggage, but kudos to you for for packing what your needed in your carry on stuff. I'm usually good about that, but maybe I need to prepare for more than just one day without my luggage. And that's nice that you had the AirTag in there - I find that very helpful just so I know where it is (even if it didn't make the flight).

I'm in sort of a similar situation. I have the choice of flying out of Duluth, which is 15 minutes from my house or taking a shuttle to MSP, which is 2 1/2 hours away. When I first moved here, I chose Duluth but had so many problems coordinating flight times with the MSP flights that I finally just elected to always fly out of MSP.

Lately, I've been checking a bag rather than carrying it on, mainly so I don't have to deal with it at the airport. And frankly, I've never had a layover less than 2 hours. But I never would have assumed that I needed a new boarding pass for my suitcase. I guess I've been lucky because it's always made it home with me. Last year was Delta and Air France; this year was Delta and KLM. So it does surprise me. Just wondered if it's an AA issue?

Posted by
2454 posts

Thank you for this interesting report. We definitely need to check our luggage for our next trip as it involves polar gear (and hiking poles) that is just too much for my RS carry on luggage. If one of our connecting flights goes sideways I will be sure to ask for a new boarding pass for our luggage. Who knew? If our luggage doesn’t make it with us our trip will definitely be definitely impacted. I will be packing an extra set of clothes in my backpack along with my camera gear and hopefully if things go awry I can manage with that. Plus the store on board the ship will have some of the supplies that we will need.

Posted by
4289 posts

Lol, Pam! I DO think my suitcase needs a name because she definitely has her own adventures. 🤣 Even when they are on purpose. She recently spent 3 days in Thessaloniki without me when I went to Bulgaria for the weekend. I am only assuming she stayed quietly at the hotel….. 🤣

And in the future I am going to be sure I check the tag for intermediate stops - I always just look at the end destination.

Ok, I was being funny about the use of “boarding pass” for my suitcase. What I think is that each airline has their own software system (obviously) and while partner airlines are supposed to be compatible, there are times it doesn’t work and it requires human intervention to fix. I like to know the why’s but at the very least, I like to know the process - even if I think it’s a bad one.

In this case, I got to Dulles, went to the BA lounge, and asked the agent there, as I was entering, if I was going to need a new boarding pass for my next flight (since it was operated by BA). They are supposed to be more knowledgeable and helpful than gate agents. 🤷🏻‍♀️ She had trouble finding me - but eventually did and said yes, absolutely. She printed my next two passes on the spot (making the ones I got from AA redundant). And I forgot to ask about my suitcase. If I had remembered, she would probably have changed it into the BA system as well. Edit* My layover in Dulles was 4 hours….. it was a computer issue, not a time issue.

Mardee, last fall I was on United. Flights delayed, got to the gate at ORD in a scrum as boarding was starting, and was told I had to go to the desk to get new passes for my next 2 flights. It was kinda chaos. She asked if I had checked bags. Yes, so she worked on getting that changed as well. In the chaos and hurry, she only changed over one bag and I didn’t catch the oversight. The one she changed was the one that came with me. The other stayed in Chicago till the next day. So it was a required changover. Even though I bought my roundtrip all one ticket (with miles) from United (and had all boarding passes in my hand). *Again, here I had NO time but because the computer switch was made for one suitcase, it made the flight even though time was short.

And I wish we still had a shuttle option. It would be really helpful!

Posted by
6820 posts

And I wish we still had a shuttle option. It would be really helpful!

It is nice to have. It's about $100 RT but when you factor in the cost of gas, time, stress of driving and parking, it's a bargain.

Posted by
3196 posts

Thanks for all the details of your trip travails.
I guess what we can all take away from this is that we need to continually be checking where our bags are routed to, checking the baggage tags, asking the staff repeatedly about the baggage routing details.
Just one more thing to pay attention to!
I’m glad you got your case in the end though.

Posted by
4289 posts

Mary, good plan. Especially when you have a short turn around and need your items. These two times have been when I was changing carriers - and both happened in the U.S. But it doesn’t happen every time.

SJ, maybe there’s a takeaway beyond I don’t know why things happen…. 🤣 I also have to wonder if it has something to do with how award space is configured…..

Mister É, I am afraid to ask for an interpretation. 🤣