Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baggage Bedlam at American Airlines

First, the airlines start charging us for headsets, meals, even peanuts. Now, they are charging us to check our suitcases. Then, they simply are unable to get them onto the plane to travel with us.

Aargh! You'd think that if you have to pay $25 extra to get your underwear and jammies onto the plane, they would do what you've paid them to do. Not so.

This was the scene at the American Airlines terminal at New York's JFK today when the baggage handling system melted down. Computer glitch. Nobody's baggage went anywhere. Flights were delayed or cancelled entirely. Passengers who paid $25 extra to check their bags were given the choice to fly without their bags or hang around -- maybe until tomorrow -- when the bags and the passengers could be on the same plane. Maybe.

The picture was taken by Mike Xirinachs, a reporter for WCBS Radio -- where I used to work as a consumer reporter -- who was covering this baggage bedlam. Kinda looks like last year's scene at London's Heathrow Airport, when the baggage piled up because of a meltdown with the passenger and baggage security system.

So here are Consumer Kanter's Words of Warning for airline travel --

Never, ever put into checked luggage anything that you cannot do without, or replace, within 24 hours of your flight. That means your wedding gown or tuxedo, prescription medications, chargers or spare batteries for your digital camera and other electronic gear, the 'hello' toys your grandchildren expect when they meet you at the airport. Carry on with you at least a change of unmentionables for tomorrow, and a sweater or jacket to cover up the sweat marks on the shirt you are forced to wear two days in a row.

Never, ever take the last connection of the day. If something goes wrong, you are stranded halfway to your destination. Sleeping on the floor in some corner of an airport is no fun. Just ask me -- I've done it.

Always, always, put a luggage tag inside your bag, as well as outside, just in case the outside tag gets ripped off in some kind of baggage bedlam or conveyor belt catastrophe. It's tough enough to track down a bag that has a luggage tag on it. Borderline impossible without one.

Happy travels. And aren't we happy about paying out $25 extra green money to check a suitcase. That's for the first bag. Some airlines now are charging $100 or more to check a second or third one. As I said before -- aargh!