Carl Cooper was eagerly anticipating an adventure when he boarded a flight from Kelowna, B.C., to London, England, where his multi-country vacation was set to begin.
He just wasn’t expecting that his summer romp through Europe would include following his luggage through an online app as it embarked on an entirely different trip that included a pitstop in Iceland’s capital, a stranger’s house in smalltown England and, eventually, a police visit before being delivered back into his hands.
“It was another great idea by my wife to get AirTags and it certainly added to the trip, added to the adventure,” he said. “My bag had a great time.”
Like countless others, Cooper was snared in what some have described as an air travel meltdown. It’s been characterized by, among other things, heaps of luggage piled in what have been described as suitcase graveyards.
That’s not to say that losing luggage is a new phenomenon. It’s just become worse in recent months following a long travel lull brought on by the pandemic, according to the SITA Baggage IT Insights 2022 report.
The report shows passenger traffic has evolved since 2020, with most of the 2021 recovery being driven by domestic travel, but the resumption of international and long-haul flights is contributing to an increase in mishandling.
“The mishandling rate at the global level on international routes is 8.7 per thousand passengers, while only 1.85 for domestic routes,” reads the report, which came out earlier this year. “Put differently, at a global level the likelihood of mishandling a bag is about 4.7 times higher on international routes compared to domestic routes.”
The amount of apparent bungling with Cooper’s suitcase alone may boost those numbers.
Awaiting his flight home to Salmon Arm, B.C., while at a London hotel, Thursday, Cooper said he realized his bags had gone rogue within hours of his trip beginning on June 28.
“We were flying with WestJet and we left Kelowna and went to Vancouver,” he said.
“When we got to Vancouver, and I was just checking (the Apple AirgTags) because it was kind of fun to watch. Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, my bag’s in Victoria.’”
Cooper said he went to the WestJet desk and told the person there what he’d discovered. They told him the airline doesn’t fly to Victoria. He pointed out he had evidence to the contrary.
He and his wife were boarding the flight to London right about then, so he didn’t have much time to prove his point.
Unsurprisingly, when they got to Gatwick airport, his luggage hadn’t. According to the AirTag it was still in Victoria, though he said sharing this information with the staff at WestJet didn’t get much traction.
A few days later, Cooper was still without his suitcase and he dispatched his brother to the Victoria airport to see what was what, and he came up empty-handed. Then, days later, he had a friend check in.
“A half an hour before he got there, the bag started to move,” Cooper said.
“I could actually see that it was getting on an Air Canada flight and so my buddy got there half an hour after my bag left.”
He said he then contacted someone at the Calgary airport to explain that his suitcase was there and they asked both Air Canada and WestJet to retrieve it. Neither airline could, or would, he said, and the bag moved on again, this time to Gatwick airport, in London.
By that time, however, Cooper had already moved on to Amsterdam, so his luggage was sent on another adventure.
“It went to Gatwick (in London) and then it went to Iceland. That was a good one; we always wanted to go to Iceland, so our bags beat us there,” Cooper said.
Once in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, WestJet told Cooper they’d send it to Frankfurt, Germany, where he’d been.
“By that time I was like, ‘Don’t try and catch up to us, just send it home, we’ll figure it out,’” he said, adding that the couple had long since bought clothes by then and were making do.
From Frankfurt, it was sent to Heathrow, again in London, and considering the chaos that’s been displayed there, Cooper wasn’t reassured.
Throughout it all he was trying to reach WestJet, which he said wasn’t responding anymore by email. Finally, on Twitter the airline commented but without much information to share.
“It got really weird. (The luggage) started travelling around England in a car or a vehicle,” he said. “I’m like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ and so I sent WestJet Twitter a picture and they responded.”
The message from West Jet reads: “Hi Carl: Don’t worry. Your bag is on its way, it just wanted to see the world first.”
His AirTags then told another story. Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England, and Cooper had the actual address to the home in the city the luggage was sitting in.
“It was a residential house,” he said.
Not a house of anyone he knew, nor, did it seem, of anyone the airline knew.
“I sent WestJet Twitter another note and they said, ‘Hi Carl the bag looks like it’s taking a rest.’”
Normally, Cooper said he’d appreciate the humour but by this point, his patience was being tested. He was in the middle of Portugal, so he decided to call the Salisbury police, who Cooper said went above and beyond to help.
“They sent an officer who knocked on the door and the person said, ‘The delivery company showed up and dropped off this bag. It’s not mine. I have no idea.’”
Cooper then arranged a private courier and on Thursday, he was reunited with his bag, still intact but with a sticker marking its unusual journey.
He was set to head home hours later and decided to move all the valuable things that had been in the luggage into his carry-on – lesson learned.
Cooper he said he didn’t want to be too critical of WestJet, as he’s used the airline without incident many times before. This trip, however, tested his faith, even though he found time to glean some fun it.
“We posted it on Facebook, and it’s become a bit of an event with our friends,” he said.
“We’ve had a little Tim Hortons contest where people would predict where it would be next so we had fun with it and we got to travel.
“But it stopped being fun at a certain point when it looked like we might not get it back. There were really personal things in there … gifts from my kids, shirts from places we’ve been on family trips, and so I really wanted my stuff back.”
It also was an extra expense that Cooper isn’t sure he will be able to recoup.
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WestJet media spokesperson Denise Kenny said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of Cooper’s case but would look into it.
“Recognizing the current travel ecosystem, we understand there have been impacts on our guests across the travel journey, including baggage delays and we thank our guests for their continued patience and understanding,” she said in a statement.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver the WestJet experience our guests expect from us and we are making every effort to connect impacted guests with their missing bags. We continue to work alongside our third-party service providers to alleviate baggage delays and have invested in additional WestJet oversight to support our partners responsible for actioning and delivering our baggage services in a timely manner.
“We are sorry to hear of Mr. Cooper’s recent experience with his baggage and sincerely apologize for the impact this had on his travel plans. “