This is a writing about a disappointing experience with airline travel. I was helping the travelers who went through the experience described here. Over three days they had seven flights, with one of the seven having reached the airport, but unable to land due to a regional power outage impacting the airport.
Initial Ticket Purchase
Initially a non-stop flight from Chicago to Delhi was purchased, with a slight seat upgrade to avoid sitting in cramped economy seats for the 14 hour flight. The non-stop flight cost was a bit more than a flight with multiple stops.
Many weeks prior to the departure date, the airline cancelled the non-stop flight and substituted it with a 1-stop flight which would be Chicago to Newark, then Newark to Delhi. There was to be a 5-hour layover. There was no reimbursement for the downgrade from a non-stop flight to a 1-stop flight. Having an intermediary stop always increases the chances of delays or problems with connecting flights.
Cedar Rapids to Chicago
A free itinerary change was offered as compensation for the change in flight plans, and surprisingly, the airline was willing to add a Cedar Rapids to Chicago flight to the itinerary at no extra cost. That would save a drive to Chicago, but also added in the uncertainly of a timely departure and arrival in Chicago. At least it was some consolation for the downgrade from a nonstop international flight to a 1-stop flight. Thankfully, the Cedar Rapids to Chicago flight was on-time.
Chicago to Newark 5-Hour Delay
The Chicago flight was so late in departing that the flight arrived in Newark with a 5-hour delay. As the plane from Chicago was arriving in Newark, the plane to Delhi was taking off.
Another Chicago to Newark flight that was scheduled for later in the day had actually been on-time and could have reached the connecting flight on time. It’s always frustrating to know that another option was available that could have worked.
Overnight Stay in Newark
Because of the flight delay and missed connection, the airline provided a hotel voucher to stay near the airport in Newark. The voucher covered only a portion of the hotel cost.
Newark to Montreal
The only remaining flights from Newark to Delhi were multi-stop flights that would go through Europe to change planes for a flight headed to Delhi. Some of the travel options had two-stops including one domestic airport and then a European airport before continuing to Delhi. These stops would include changing airplanes with short layovers in foreign countries which were likely to result in more missed connections.
A direct flight from Montreal to Delhi was available and seemed like the best option. The airline was willing to arrange whatever itinerary was preferred and offered a Newark to Montreal flight to catch the non-stop flight from Montreal to Delhi. So, this option was selected.
Montreal to Burlington
The flight to Montreal came close to the Montreal airport, but never touched down. It circled above the airport about 6 times and then was re-routed to Burlington, Vermont.
It had been impossible to land in Montreal due to power outages caused by excessive air conditioner use which shut down a region of Canada that included the power to the airport and more than 200,000 people.
The excessive air conditioner use by people in the area was a result of historically high unbearable high temperatures in Canada. The airplane landed in Burlington, and then sat on the runway awaiting further instructions from air traffic control.
Burlington to Montreal
Once emergency power was provided to the Montreal airport, it was possible for the plane to return to Montreal. However, the significant delay due to rerouting resulted in a very short connecting time in Montreal. At this point the remaining connections in India would not be feasible. It made most sense to just travel back to Iowa and plan a trip for later with a direct flight, as was originally requested.
Overnight Stay in Montreal
It was necessary to stay overnight in Montreal since no other departing flights were available. Even though it was just after 5PM, all the airline staff had left the desks, presumably the airport had mostly cleared out due to the power outage. The lack of staff at the airport made it difficult to get assistance or arrange for a hotel. Eventually hotel accommodations were established without any help from the airline. Navigating at night in a mostly French-speaking city was a challenge, but ultimately there was an overnight stay at a hotel.
Montreal to Chicago
The flight from Montreal to Chicago was anticipated to arrive within an hour of the departing Chicago to Cedar Rapids flight. Given the experience so far, there was some hesitancy in trusting that there would be sufficient time to make the connecting flight.
The flight arrived in Chicago later than expected. Only with the assistance of airline staff providing rapid transit through the airport was it possible to make the connecting flight to Cedar Rapids.
With very little time to spare, boarding of the Chicago to Cedar Rapids flight was achieved.
Chicago to Cedar Rapids
The flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids was on-time and arrived without any issues.
Both checked bags were tagged and were properly updated to reflect Cedar Rapids as the ultimate destination. However, only one bag arrived in Cedar Rapids. The other was recorded as still being in Newark. A request was made to have the bag delivered. The airline promised to make arrangements for the bag to be brought to the home.
Three Hour Wait Times
Throughout the three-day ordeal, there were numerous times when it was necessary to contact the airlines. The quickest way to get support from the airline was with online chat. Due to “an unexpectedly high number of requests” the wait time was sometimes estimated as three hours before communicating with a customer service representative. This made it hard to get service in a timely manner, resulting in more delays and problems.
Cryptic Text Message
The following day, a text message was received from an unknown number, without any identification as to who the sender was.
The message stated:
- “Your delivery is on the way. You can visit https://a1234.app.goo.gl/ABCDE to view your delivery tracking information.”
The link was actually slightly different than what is shown above. The letters and numbers were different.
Since the sender didn’t identify who they were, and the message didn’t indicate what the delivery was, and the link to be clicked was not a valid shipper or business, it seemed like a scam. So, after taking a screenshot, it seemed best to choose the option to “Report Junk” and delete.
Using a secured off-site computer, it was possible to check the link. It did not work.
Bag Delivery Issues
The third-party baggage delivery company stated that they arrived at the home with the bag, but nobody was home so they couldn’t leave the bag.
There actually were many people at home the entire day, looking out the door and awaiting a promised phone call prior to delivery.
Another notation stated that the bag was actually delivered and had been left at the residence earlier.
Subsequent communications stated the bag would arrive by 10 PM.
The bag didn’t arrive.
It was finally delivered the following day.
Over 20 major airlines contract with HomeServ — an independent company that operates a website called “Where’s My Suitcase.” This is the company that was supposed to deliver the bag.
This is an excerpt from the About page for the delivery company:
- “HomeServ provides total delivery solutions by developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships with our partners. … our management team understands how to meet individualized delivery needs with integrated and customized technology solutions.” [Source]
The company has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and an average of 1.45 stars out of 5 based on customer reviews and complaints. [Source] Here are a few examples of the 1-star reviews:
- “The tracking number they gave us to follow up on wheres my suitcase, did NOT work. The website did not accept the tracking number. … Wheres My Suitcase appears to be a scam.” (2 Jul 2023)
- “Complete absence of service. No way of contacting them. Their website offers no information. By using them Airlines show their complete disregard for their customers” (19 Feb 2023)
- “My experience is exactly like several others here. American Airlines turned my luggage over to this company 48 hours ago. They promised delivery that same night (Monday). It is now Wednesday. They do not respond to email and have no posted phone number.” (27 Jul 2022)
- “Two bags were left on our doorstep on July 13th by wheresmysuitcase, but they reported to Air France that they delivered three. There was a phone number on the yellow tag; called several times, and the employee says all three bags were delivered because that’s what shows on their tracker. They got no signature because our only contact was a text, not a ring of the doorbell.” (19 Jul 2022)
- “Same issues as other reviews. No way to contact, questionable service people. I filled out the “waive signature” in the email that was sent to me, and asked them to drop my bag at the door because I was going to be on calls. All of that info was confirmed by them to me. Then around time of bag showing up I get 2 calls and an email from the driver from his random number asking me for a tip when he arrives and telling me that he won’t leave my bag unless I am there. Totally shady and disruptive.” (19 Jul 2022)
- “This company needs to be investigated for fraud. There isn’t any way to contact the company. Worldtracer indicated that 3 of my bags were assigned for delivery and picked up by this company for delivery. They only delivered 2 bags and the driver said he didn’t have the other bag. The whereismysuitcase.com emails and website tracker indicated they had 3 in route, however only 2 showed up. There is no accountability and the airline could not reach the company. It is a dead end without any resolution. There is clearly a point where the bag went missing and it’s when the third party (whereismysuitcase.com) took possession. They do not respond to their customer service emails or have any way of communicating with their contractor or the owner of the baggage. It appears that the airlines are not vetting these third parties and fraudulent activity is happening at Whereismysuitcase.com” (15 Jul 2022)
- “Terrible company. My bag was pick up from the airport on 6/24 and it is 6/28 and I have not received my bag, there is no longer and tracking info available, and no phone number to call with any questions.” (28 Jun 2022)
- “The company has no public phone number and does not respond to emails. It is very likely that they may have stolen my luggage, but how could I know? American Airlines reps have told me they cannot contact this company. Unbelievable and unethical, if not downright illegal.” (22 Jun 2022)
- “My bag was delayed into LGA on a Monday night. The wheresmysuitcase.com web site announces that the bag would be picked up by noon on Tuesday and delivered by 5:00 that day. As of Wednesday morning the bag had still not been picked up, but the web site continued to advise that it “will be delivered” by 5:00 on Tuesday. Ditto for this morning (Thursday).I have an Apple AirTag in the bag. It shows that the bag has left the airport but has been delivered to an address in Queens. I am in Westchester. I will now call be calling the police to report the theft. No airline should ever consider using this company.” (6 Jan 2022)
There are so many details to the above saga. It exemplifies the poor state of customer service and logistics today. The aspects of the delays caused by extreme weather conditions offer insight into what to expect in the future as climate extremes impact various aspects of society.
The airline industrial complex is too big to fail, but also too big to succeed. There’s seemingly nothing that individual consumers or legislators or government agencies can do to improve the situation.
There are many other key industries globally that are strained and failing, with stories similar to the ones above in healthcare, education, and other professions. Automated systems with humans no longer in the loop have resulted in runaway technology that nobody seems to be able to improve or replace.
Positive Business Models
Efforts have been made to incorporate human-centric principles and practices into business operations. The Triple Bottom Line refers to business placing the planet and people above profits. The rise of B Corporations places attention on the ways businesses can have a more positive impact in the world.
There’s a fork in the road that businesses encounter at some point:
- OPTION #1 — Will a business take the path of maximizing profits? Some companies are still in a hyper-greed mode causing harm to the planet, employees, and consumers. They create stress, harm, loss, and waste. Someone at the top of the pyramid benefits. Everyone else suffers.
- OPTION #2 — Another path is to pursue maximizing product quality, service quality, consumer safety, environmental stewardship, customer service excellence, and other things that make the world better? This can be referred to as “business forward” — a model where business improves society.
Until the airline industry is able to fully shift to the more humane, ethical, and beneficial business approach, conditions will likely remain the same or get worse.