Manifesto Multilinko
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Monday, September 25, 2006
the baggage retrieval system at Heathrow

I'm So Worried

So here's the thing: there is now a Catch-22.
You don't want to check your bags when you fly, but if you're carrying more than a scarf, you must (hey wait, couldn't you strangle someone with a scarf?).

The reason you don't want to check you bags is
1) Although it may appear that airlines know where your bags are, they actually don't
2) Airlines have close to zero liability for lost luggage or the missing contents of your baggage

Pretty nice business model actually, the anti-FedEx. "We don't know where your stuff is, but it's not our responsibility anyway."

If your bag should become, in airline terminology, "delayed", some of them use a helpful system called WorldTracer, which has five levels, progressing from doom to contentment. The levels are

1: you're screwed
2: we think maybe we know where the bag is
3: we actually know where the bag is (locally?)
4: we're sending you your bag (locally)
5: we know where it is and we're sending it to you (locally)

or in the dry words of WorldTracer


Now, you might think that the airport knows your bag from the barcode thingy they put on it to route it from plane to plane. As far as I can tell, this gets the bag routed but if the bag routing fails, it's useless. You need to have your name, itinerary and contact info in multiple locations on and in the bag, or you will have a very hard time ever seeing it again, once it is "delayed".

If you call the Air Canada "Central Baggage Office" you will get a call centre in India that will use some creative words to report one of the five levels above, which I'm pretty sure is all they see on their screen (I wouldn't be surprised if they use the same web interface to WorldTracer that is available to anyone on the Internet). They will also, as some pointless distraction exercise, ask you to confirm your contact information in detail, every single time you talk to them.

UPDATE 2006-09-26: Actually, the call centre does have access to more info than the web. The web was still showing status #2 Item Located, while the call centre was able to tell me it had reached Ottawa and was waiting to clear customs. So keep calling them about once a day. ENDUPDATE

Unfortunately, as an added, final bonus, the cr*p cheap ID tags they give you in the airport tend to get torn off during the violent handling the bags receive.

But wait, you're not supposed to put your address on your bag lest someone steal your identity. Oh, and electronics are most problematic. Oh plus, please don't lock your bag, or if you do, only use a US TSA-approved lock (they may use a special key which only thousands of baggage checkers have, but will probably just cut it off anyway, as that's easier).

Fvcking thieves and terrorists have won.

You need to have

* a photo of the bag
* a photo of all of the bag's contents (ideally)
* a sturdy nametag on the outside
* maybe one of those plastic ID things but I'm dubious that they work
* a baggage ID card in an outside zippered pocket
* a baggage ID card plus itinerary inside
* plus you should have name and contact info on any devices or gadgets inside (e.g. laptop batteries, power converters, PDAs)
* plus you should have contact info written into any paper notebooks or binders inside
* full insurance for all contents of the baggage

Air Canada (the source of my woes) has a printable baggage ID card (PDF), which it calls perhaps accurately "baggage postcard".

They also have wonderful information like

Liability for loss, delay or damage to baggage for travel wholly between points in Canada is limited to $1500 CAD per passenger unless a higher value is declared in advance and additional charges are paid. For most International travel (including domestic portions of international journeys) up to approximately $9.07 USD per pound ($20.00 USD per kilo) for checked baggage ...

Please note that Air Canada assumes no liability for money, jewelry, silverware, negotiable papers, securities or other valuables, business documents, samples, liquids, food and other perishables, computers, prescription drugs, photographic equipment, video equipment, cellular telephones, artistic items, chinaware/ceramics/pottery, electronic and mechanical items, glass, musical instruments and equipment, paper (includes photographs/negatives/prints, historical documents, maps), sporting goods (tennis rackets, scuba gear, fishing rods, surfboards, sporting trophies such as animal antlers and horns).

In another part of their site, they state explicitly

Important: Remember that your passport or other travel documents, medication, money, jewellery, cameras and electronic devices, business documents, samples, valuables, fragile and perishable items, must be carried in your carry-on luggage at all times, as these are excluded from Air Canada's liability.

Oh thanks, I will "remember" that, what with Air Canada never ever having told me that in my entire history of 38 years of flying.

Things that are in my checked bag, due to a combination of London Heathrow bag size and bag contents limitations and a desire not to spend hours having a chummy chat with a security officer about why I need to travel with not one, but two GPS devices, are:

* medication
* many electronic devices
* not particularly important business documents

They also state

When a bag is found, we use the baggage identification tag to locate you, advise the airport baggage representative and send the bag on its way as soon as possible. It is therefore imperative that up-to-date, clearly visible baggage identification tags are placed on the outside and the inside of all your baggage. Clear identification means faster delivery.

In case you're wondering, I have zero baggage identification on my bag.
There was a cheapo Air Canada tag on it when it left Ottawa, but only a stub left by the time it got to Spain.
In my defence, it's been like 20 years since I actually checked a bag. I truly hate checking bags, but I had no choice this time.

There are GPS devices you can put on or in your bag to locate them, but they are forbidden.

Associated Press: Surviving lost luggage.

I think there's a business opportunity for FedEx et al. - I would have been better off just FedExing everything but my clothes home.

I'm going back to travelling by steamship and zeppelin.