Afraid to check a bag? Canada’s missing luggage woes explained
Deborah Cleary was annoyed.
When she landed in Montreal after a trip to Italy on December 19, she discovered that her suitcase had gone missing. More than a month later, Air Canada still hadn’t found her bag.
“I thought about it for so long, worried about it, checked online, called Air Canada,” Cleary said Tuesday from her home in Plattsburg, NY. “I’m just a little desperate to get my bag back.”
The return to travel after the pandemic has been turbulent, plagued by massive flight disruptions and missing luggage piling up at airports. That has led to calls for airlines to improve their baggage delivery systems.
“It’s broken, so I think they should fix that,” said Cleary, who visited the Montreal airport two weeks ago to look for her bag amid a sea of unclaimed luggage. She didn’t find it.
However, following a CBC News investigation into Air Canada, Cleary learned on Friday that her suitcase is being shipped to her home.
“I’m very, very happy,” she said. “I almost resigned myself, I would never see it again.”
Canada’s first round of missing baggage chaos exploded in the summerlargely fueled by staff shortages as airports and airlines scrambled to ramp up operations.
There was hope that the holiday travel season would run smoother until severe winter storms hit much of Canada, causing hundreds of flight delays and cancellations, plus a backlog of lost luggage.
“In the airline industry, a delay of more than 15 minutes generally results in missed connections,” said Duncan Dee, former director of Air Canada. “Delays equal missing bags.”
Dee said airlines need to keep better track of their luggage and the federal government should also invest more in airports.
In late December, cold weather caused a baggage carousel to freeze at Toronto International Airport; a severe snowstorm caused widespread flight delays and cancellations Vancouver International Airportt.
“There is clearly a need for better infrastructure, better resources for airports… to make them more resilient to these weather conditions,” Dee said.
What about the airlines?
When asked about the recent travel chaos this week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said airports will get the tools they need but did not elaborate.
On the baggage issue, he pointed the finger at airlines.
“I find it extremely frustrating when I hear stories of people who don’t have their luggage with them for days on end,” he said at an event in Hamilton. “Airlines should do more.”
His comments follow a number of recent ones media reports of airline passenger struggles to find their missing luggage
They contain the saga of Nakita Rees and Tom Wilson of Cambridge, Ont., who fought with Air Canada for more than four months to recover Wilson’s missing suitcase.
The bag disappeared in September during their flight home from Greece. Because the couple had put an air tag tracker in the suitcase, they were able to track the journey to a storage facility in nearby Etobicoke, Ontario.
Although Rees shared the bag’s whereabouts with Air Canada, the airline deemed it lost.
“The most frustrating thing was that we couldn’t get our hands on it, even though we knew the location and told the airline so many times,” Rees said. “Because the air labels are newer, I just don’t think airlines know how to use that information.”
The couple finally got the briefcase back this week — after that their story was picked up by the media.
Other passengers have also complained about similar experiences in tracking down their lost luggage with air tags.
Former Air Canada executive Dee said airlines usually track their baggage by scanning their baggage tags and their systems cannot currently handle air tracking technology.
“That’s something where aviation processes have not caught up with available technology,” he said. “No airline in the world currently has the ability to accept traveler information.”
Alghabra suggested that airlines should move with the times.
“We hear about how Amazon is able to identify where their items are [are at] any time,” he said. “It’s frustrating that airlines still haven’t modernized their baggage handling systems.”
Air Canada told CBC News it is constantly exploring new technologies. The airline added that the pace of baggage delivery has returned to normal after the stormy holiday weather.
Air Canada said that in Rees’ case, the luggage tag had fallen off the suitcase. The airline didn’t say how they eventually found the couple’s bag, but did indicate they can keep the $2,300 in compensation they received for lost luggage.
WestJet said it has launched a strategic review to refine its baggage systems. “[We] are committed to working with our third-party service partners … to ensure we improve in this area,” spokesperson Madison Kruger said in an email.
Travelers can claim up to about $2,350 for baggage that is lost or delayed on an international flight. For delayed baggage on domestic flights, the airlines set their own rules.
Alghabra’s office told CBC News this week that the government is exploring ways to strengthen air passenger rights, including for delayed and lost luggage.
As for passenger Cleary, she had claimed compensation for a lost bag but said getting it back is a better outcome.
“I’d rather have my bag back than money from Air Canada.”