Late luggage poses latest hurdle to airlines, passengers

A passenger looks for his luggage among a pile of unclaimed baggage at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Montreal on June 29.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

It took Gloria Schwartz three days to retrieve her child’s luggage.

The Ottawa resident’s son was returning last Tuesday to his hometown from Tel Aviv, where he had been studying medicine, before heading off to California for a practicum following a four-day visit with his parents.

On top of having the sojourn reduced by a day after Air Canada canceled a connecting flight from Montreal citing a lack of ground crew, the carrier failed to get his bags to Ottawa on time, Schwartz said in an interview.

“All his clothing and all his worldly possessions were in a duffel bag, which the airline lost. We picked him up, brought him home and then the next day I had to take him shopping because he literally had nothing to wear but the clothing on his back.”

Passengers preparing to run the gauntlet of Canadian air travel facing a key obstacle on top of flight delays and cancellations: late luggage. In recent weeks, airlines have furnished the country’s biggest airport terminals with row upon row of belated bags, causing headaches for thousands of customers.

For travelers flying with Air Canada on Monday, the odds were their flight was delayed, with 63 per cent of the carrier’s trips landing late — the most of any large airline across the globe — according to FlightAware tracking service.

Some 52 per cent of all flights out of Toronto’s Pearson airport were delayed, more than any other airport in the Western Hemisphere, and No. 3 worldwide after Sydney and Frankfurt.

Delays mark a particularly sticky problem for luggage flow, with a shortage of baggage handlers to shuttle suitcases from late arrivals to connecting planes while also grappling with last-minute gate changes.

Airlines contract out suitcase delivery to courier companies who deliver luggage to passengers, costing carriers more amid a rise in fuel surcharges by shippers.

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, says travelers are owed up to $2,300 from carriers for costs incurred due to baggage delays.

“It’s really an onslaught. It’s insane what’s happening … these immense piles of luggage,” he said.

“They may typically tell you that we are going to reimburse you only $100 or $250 for the first 48 hours, which is a lie.”

Lukacs recommends passengers buy whatever clothes and items they need as a result of the tardy portmanteau, keep the receipts and file a claim with airline soon after, rather than waiting to get through to the airline to confirm purchases will be reimbursed. If the claims are rejected, small claims court is the next step, he said.

Airlines and government agencies have been scrambling to deal with an overwhelming travel resurgence in recent months.

Air Canada has hired more than 2,000 workers at airports and more than 750 in customer service centers this year for a payroll surpassing 32,000. That’s 93 per cent of 2019 levels, even as its flight numbers fall below 80 per cent of pre-pandemic figures after the carrier last week announced cuts of 15 per cent to its summer schedule — nearly 10,000 flights in July and August — affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Canada’s airport security and customs agencies have also been on a hiring spree, with more than 1,000 new security screeners in place since April — though not all have clearance to work the scanners — and 700-plus student border officers stationed at checkpoints over the summer, according to the federal government.

Despite the increased staffing, Schwartz said she was unable to get through to Air Canada customer service. She instead eventually received a call from the airport’s lost and found.

“’If you want your bag today, you’d better come get it, because if you want us to deliver it to the house it’ll probably take three, four more days,’” Schwartz said, recalling the phone conversation.

“There were literally hundreds and hundreds of pieces of luggage and infants’ car seats and all kinds of things piled up without any supervision or security. So anyone could walk in and steal bags.

“It’s very upsetting for people,” she added. “It really screws people around.”

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