The Lost (‘Delayed’) Luggage Saga

Due to a shortage of baggage handlers in the UK, I had worried about our luggage in the weeks before departure but was reassured that this was only affecting short haul destinations at other airports. Then, on our departure, I was worried about our luggage being left in Miami. We were originally told that we needed to collect our bags there and check them in again for the next flight, but were told at Heathrow that the bags would be transfered for us after all. I wasn’t convinced by this change of information so still insisted we checked the carousel in Miami to make sure our bags weren’t there. We relaxed a bit about them when they weren’t! However, on arrival in Liberia (due to the San Jose flight being diverted), my bag wasn’t there. The airport had been reopened specially for our flight, so there weren’t many staff around and buses were waiting outside. Panic!

Zoe and I approached the American Airlines representative, who seemed very relaxed about the situation, even when I couldn’t find the luggage slip in my hand luggage. She traced the details from the tags on the other bags and informed us that my bag was in London.

Tip 1: Keep your luggage receipts somewhere accessible. You won’t find them in the bottom of your hand luggage when stressed and in a hurry!

Tip 2: I was asked various questions that would have been easier to answer if I’d been prepared for them. Size and appearance of luggage, three items within it (I gave some very generic answers to this even though we had an itemised list of what was in each bag!), details of where we were staying, local contact details.

I was given a really important piece of paper with the file number on it. This was the key to all information over the rest of the saga!

Tip 3: Take a photo of the file number and share it online with someone privately so they can send it back to you if your paper copy is damaged or your phone goes missing.

Tip 4: Make sure you can read the handwriting for the file number before leaving the airport. It turned out that mine read LIBAA not UBAA and this caused difficulty later.

While waiting at SJO (overnight, with it closed), I posted on a travel forum and was given lots of helpful advice:

Tip 5: Ask the airline for an allowance to purchase essential items.I didn’t know this was a possibility, but now know how to claim back the money I spent. If you don’t get an allowance, keep receipts.

Tip 6: Go to Wal-Mart before leaving San Jose. This advice meant that we stopped soon after Marco collected us and picked up a beach towel, pair of shoes to use in lieu of watershoes, toothpaste, toothbrush, sanitary towels (sadly disposable ones but my period had started early during the journey and I only had two bamboo washable ones in my hand luggage), and some laundry detergent, so I could wash the clothes I did have. Having made sure that we each had a full set of clothes in each other’s bags, I wasn’t too badly off for clothes but my hat, swimsuit and the Canon camera charger were all in my bag, with replacements not available in the Wal-Mart.

Tip 7: Ask for help from someone who can make calls from the UK or USA. My parents came to the rescue here once we’d arrived in Cahuita.

Although American Airlines said they’d contact me with updates after 24 hours, they never did.

Over a series of calls, my parents managed to ascertain:

  • What the file number was (we had misread it)
  • How to call American Airlines at SJO (my important piece of paper only had the Liberia number on it)
  • How to check and update my details (very useful as the caretaker’s phone number had been entered in the system with two transposed digits!)
  • That my bag was on a flight to Miami
  • That my bag was at SJO
  • That my bag would be delivered in the next couple of hours (it wasn’t)
  • That the delivery driver would call me in the next 90 minutes (they didn’t)

I spent a lot of time worrying about the bag getting to Cahuita and then getting lost because of us staying in an Airbnb, which of course didn’t have a reception or staff who could receive it. Costa Rican buildings don’t have addresses by road name, numbers or postal codes but are described by a relatively vague location instead (e.g. Approximately 100m South of the petrol station), which didn’t fit in the American Airlines address system and complicated matters further. I settled on the name of the Airbnb, with the caretaker’s number, on the first address line; then the local hotel name and phone number on line 2, where we were staying for our last night. The lady at this hotel let me know regularly that my bag hadn’t arrived there yet. American Airlines also had my UK mobile number, my Costa Rican prepago number and Marco’s number.

We stayed in for the two occasions the bag was due to be delivered and an hour after it was due the second time I had a call from the Airbnb caretaker telling me it would arrive in the next 10 minutes and to open the gate. Twenty minutes later, a little van pulled up and I had my bag back!

Update, one month on: Still waiting for American Airlines to reimburse me for the costs involved despite filling in the form. They seem hopeless at customer service, but I’ll post back if I ever hear from them!

Update, two months on: I heard from AA yesterday! They should have processed the reimbursement yesterday. No confirmation ever received that they’d had the form so it was a surprise but very glad to have it sorted.