So what happens when they lose a gate check bag?

On Sunday, September 24 at the absolute arsecrack of dawn, I was innocently sitting in the Gunnison, Colorado airport (GUC). Minding my own business, like an ordinary traveler. I was was there with my wife and kids, and for reasons which I cannot explain… I decided to help United Airlines. The plane was full, and they asked if some of us would be willing to gate check our bags. We would drop them off planeside and pick them up on the ramp as soon as we got to Denver (DEN). Absolutely nothing might possibly go wrong, thinks me, and I am a charitable sort, so my younger son and I agreed to do that. I always want to help a fellow passenger, and right at that moment I was feeling charitable to United. Because I am bad at things. And thus begins my tale of woe.

So we boarded the GUC-DEN flight, and it was fine. If you have never taken that flight, it is absolutely gorgeous as you fly over the Rockies. We dropped our bags off planeside, and I watched a ramp agent scan the bags with his machine. We kept the bottom half of the claim tickets. Absolutely nothing can go wrong from this point, right?

Me and my younger son sitting on the DEN-GUC flight, thinking that *of course* there is no way they can lose a gate check bag in the 6 feet between that spot on the jet bridge and the plane.
Me and my younger son sitting on the DEN-GUC flight, thinking that of course there is no way they can lose a gate check bag in the 6 feet between that spot on the jet bridge and the plane.

Except that it can, and did. When we landed, my wife and my older son walked into the Denver terminal to wait for us. My younger son’s bag came quickly, and he took it to wait with his mother and his brother. And then they kept unloading bags, and… mine never came. I showed them my little green claim ticket (UA 7016 590128), they took it, and they brought the bag up to the top of the stairs. And….. they wouldn’t let me touch it. Because somehow the elastic on the tag had snapped, which means they couldn’t hand it to me. According to a rule which they couldn’t cite and which the supervisor said I couldn’t look up since it was a local rule.

I noted that I had a different tag with my name on it clearly attached to the bag. That meant I could prove that it was mine. I also had my claim check, and they had an electronic record of scanning a check with the corresponding number at the gate in Gunnison. I think what they were trying to explain, probably, being charitable and trying to think through possible explanation, maybe, is that I couldn’t prove that the bag had been security screened for me to have in a passenger cabin. Except that begs the question of how my bag got there. There wasn’t a tag on it like you would see on a typical checked bag. I had my United gate check tag, and the electronic record of it being scanned, and my name tag. As best I can tell, their explanation was that space aliens from Mars may have planted my bag there for me.

And then the United gate agent got handsy

So I was standing by the window to point to the ramp agent where my name tag was to prove it was my bag. That employee, who I have elected not to name, then decided to move around me for a purpose I still don’t understand. He put his hand on my left shoulder to move me to the side, I guess because he wanted to look at the bag, or lock the door, or retrieve the bag to check it, or something. I still don’t know why he did it.

So did it hurt when he shoved me? No, not even a little. Was I injured? Not at all. Would I have gone to jail if I did the same thing to their employee? Absolutely. Like, in a heartbeart. They actually play videos about that very thing as you walk through security. In speaking to the supervisor and later the customer service department, however, it became clear that they did not actually give the north end of a southbound rat. Something about a forwarding it to the right people and trying to do better next time. Apparently, the airline from when Dr. David Dao was dragged is just in to this sort of thing.

The supervisor at DEN (who I am also electing not to name) said he didn’t think his team member was trying to hurt me. I actually believe that, and it isn’t the point. This wasn’t some emergency situation. An employee physically moved me to the side because…. I don’t know why, actually. Maybe he found me inconvenient or something? I really don’t know. I do know it was an incredible sense of entitlement on his part, and it would not have been OK for me to do the same thing to him. When I sent a customer service complaint to United through the web channel, they sent me a $100 travel certificate and a vague note apologizing that they failed to live up to expectations. Again, that isn’t the point. Don’t rip tags off of bags, don’t tell me not to look up rules, don’t come up with nonsensical explanations, and don’t grab me. Again, this time with emphasis, do not grab me. If you do, please apologize instead of saying you are sure no harm was intended.

So what actually happened to the gate check bag?

Eventually, I got my bag back. They checked it, and I picked it up at my final destination. I lost about an hour on the jet bridge and waiting for the bag at bag claim. Actually, four people lost about an hour since I was travelling with others. So, yes, I eventually did get my stuff.

Here’s the thing, though. They never actually asked to see my ID. United never actually looked at the ID tag which was still attached to the bag. They believed it was mine. They just wouldn’t let me have it, thought it was OK to get handsy, and apologized at the level of your friendly neighborhood four year old. Come on, United. You can do better.

Is travel ever actually funny?

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