‘I wish I knew before I flew’: Global airport luggage woes reach New Zealand

A New Zealand woman made more than 100 unanswered phone calls in an attempt to recover a lost bag after a trip to the United Kingdom as the luggage delays affecting airports overseas reach New Zealand shores.

Wellingtonian Eve Hale said she would have reconsidered traveling overseas if she had known how staff shortages in the aviation sector are disrupting travel, describing the experience of getting her bag back as an “absolute nightmare”.

Airports across the UK, Europe, the United States and Canada have experienced widespread disruption as the lifting of Covid-related travel restrictions has led to a surge in passenger numbers, and airports, airlines and airport ground handling companies struggle to find staff to replace those laid off during the pandemic.

Shortages of ground handlers, who are contracted by airlines to provide services such as baggage handling, have seen huge pile-ups of luggage at airports and delays in retrieving missing bags.

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When Hale’s bag did not turn up on the carousel at Auckland Airport after a flight from London via Doha in late June, she went to the baggage claim counter where “a mountain of bags” was piled up.

“The bloke behind the counter told me these are all mishandled bags and they just keep coming in every day and there’s no-one to sort it out.”

A sea of ​​luggage at London's Heathrow Airport amid the widespread disruption at UK airports during the northern hemisphere summer.

@Marcotti via Spectee/AP

A sea of ​​luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport amid the widespread disruption at UK airports during the northern hemisphere summer.

After heading home to Wellington, Hale said she called ground handler Menzies Aviation more than 100 times over four days about her bag. Usually there was no answer, but Hale said that on a few occasions the receiver was picked up and “slammed back down”. There was no option to leave a message, and her two emails went unanswered.

Eventually she got through to a Menzies staff member in Wellington who told her staff shortages were to blame for baggage delays.

“He said it was a really bad situation, but he couldn’t help me either.”

Hale filed a mishandled baggage report with her airline, Qatar Airways, and attempted to contact its offices in New Zealand, Australia and London, but had no luck there either. When she got through to the Qatar branch, she was told she had to contact her local office.

Airlines worldwide have been struggling to keep up with customer inquiries, again as a result of staff shortages.

She filed a complaint with the airline, which replied to say she should contact Air New Zealand, the airline with which she had booked her flights. Air New Zealand referred her back to Qatar because the Doha-based airline had operated the flights.

Airports are generally not responsible for lost luggage, but Hale phoned the Auckland Airport call center after “exhausting all avenues” to contact Menzies and Qatar. A call center staff member suggested she ask a friend or family member living in Auckland to try to recover her bag for her, but Hale said she didn’t have anyone she could ask.

A Menzies spokesperson said on Wednesday, a week after Hale’s bag failed to turn up on the carousel, that it had now arrived in Auckland and that a company representative had been in touch with her to arrange delivery.

“Menzies Aviation is aware that some passengers traveling to Auckland Airport have experienced delays with collecting their hold baggage,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is due to the well-documented staff shortage and supply chain issues affecting the entire aviation industry.

“Our teams are currently working hard alongside our partners, including couriers, to ensure affected passengers are reunited with their bags as soon as possible.”

An Auckland Airport spokesperson says it is monitoring “early signs” of the airport chaos having reached New Zealand.

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff

An Auckland Airport spokesperson says it is monitoring “early signs” of the airport chaos having reached New Zealand.

An Auckland Airport spokesperson said airlines are responsible for taking care of customers’ bags and ensuring they reach the right destination.

“When bags go missing, airlines work with their ground handlers to find lost baggage and return it to customers.”

The airport had been in touch with its local airline contact and their ground handler to see how they could help Hale, she said.

There are “some early signs of downstream impacts” of the airport chaos in the UK and Europe reaching New Zealand, she said, noting that Auckland Airport is “monitoring the situation closely”.

A Qatar Airways spokesperson would not respond to inquiries other than to say Hale had received her bag.

Hale said the bag arrived on Wednesday night after Qatar and the airport contacted her following stuff‘s questions. She said she wanted to warn others about what might happen if their luggage goes missing while staff shortages in the aviation sector remain an issue.

“Had I known it was this bad, there are things of importance and sentimental value that I’d put in my bag that I would have put into my hand luggage. I wish I’d known before I traveled …

“My worry is that the duty of care to customers is severely diminished due to staff shortages and that because of this, they are not in a position to handle the influx of customers they are dealing with. If they can’t deal with mishandled bags, what else can’t they deal with?”

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