Why Did United “Premier” Luggage Not Arrive?

United tries to explain, then pays up  

For checked luggage to show up when the plane lands, it must be loaded before the plane takes off. So far United does not have a firm grip on the implementation of its Premier luggage promise: Your bags will always be among the first delivered at baggage claim.

On two different Newark to San Francisco flights, my checked Priority luggage was not boarded. Both times I found out at baggage claim when the carousel stopped. United sends delayed luggage on later flights. Passengers must wait several hours for it to arrive or, if masochistically inclined, contact United’s San Francisco delivery service whose approach to luggage delivery is “it will be there when it gets there.”

Two United execs tried to explain why Premier Priority luggage gets tricky. One said Priority loads last so it can come off first: but being last can lead to being left behind. Another said that’s not how it works: Priority loads first in a special space that might fill up before it’s all in. Then Priority goes on a later flight so that it can come off first.

Consumerist Takeaways:

Transfer of delayed luggage to a delivery service is not a transfer of United’s liability. United can’t transfer its accountability, but it hopes passengers think so. The delivery service’s priority is luggage to hotels, not individuals who will get their luggage many hours or days later.

Delayed disclosure to passengers is unacceptable. United barcodes all checked luggage. Once the luggage bin closes, any bags not boarded are easy to identify. Yet United delays informing passengers until they look for their luggage. Perhaps United is worried bad luggage news would make passengers feisty during flights. Better for United if passengers find out at baggage claim.

Time for the Federal Aviation Commission to require airlines to immediately inform the crews about delayed luggage—and tell the passengers before landing. Here’s how to tell them:

Hi, folks, this is the captain. We’ll be landing shortly. Weather in San Francisco is clear, temperature 60 degrees. Oh, by the way, some of you who checked your luggage…well, some didn’t make it. So when you get to Baggage Claim, check with them and if anyone is there, they’ll fill you in. Hope there’s nothing in those bags you’ll need any time soon. OK, get ready for the landing and thanks for choosing United. Some of us appreciate your business.

Consumer Comp: Eventually United gave me $300 in certificates for credits on future flights. It took some doing. United’s merger with Continental has been bad for consumers. The two ticketing systems were as incompatible as the management cultures. By making United too big to do little things—like board Priority luggage—at least well-informed customers can get a bit of compensation for United screw-ups.



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