My bag wasn’t tagged correctly — reader mistake story

Oct 9, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Steph, who had to re-check a bag during an already tight connection:

At the end of a semester abroad in Copenhagen, I was finally on my way home to Minneapolis. My tickets were booked with United miles and included stops in Brussels and Chicago, with the first leg (CPH-BRU) operated by Scandinavian Airlines. I had a 70-minute layover in Brussels, which I thought might be a little short, but because of Schengen Area regulations and the fact that United had offered my ticket for purchase with no warnings or cautions, I figured it would be okay. It wasn’t.

Halfway through my first flight, I looked at my luggage claim tag and realized that my bag had only been checked to Brussels. I knew that the checked luggage cutoff in Brussels was 60 minutes, so my 70-minute layover left me 10 minutes to go to baggage claim, get my bag and re-check in. Unsurprisingly, that was not enough time. By the time I got to the United desk, the agent told me that I’d missed my window to check in for my flight, and that all remaining flights to the U.S. that day had been canceled due to a winter storm. The United desk refused to help me, because they said Scandinavian Airlines was at fault (for not checking my bag through to the U.S.).

There was no Scandinavian Airlines desk at the Brussels airport, and I didn’t have a working phone to call their help line — I later found out they only process claims like mine after the fact, so they wouldn’t have done anything at that point for me anyway. The only thing I managed to do correctly was rebook myself before my scheduled flight took off. Since the flight hadn’t departed, changing it to the following day didn’t cost me anything thanks to my United Premier status.

This all happened around 9 a.m., and the earliest flight I could get was midday the following day. Because no one in Brussels (i.e., United) took responsibility for the mishap, I had to book a hotel and purchase meals on my own dime (approximately $200). I also had to stay in Europe for more than an extra 24 hours — not a big deal in most cases, but after four months away from home, I was beyond ready to get on that plane.

Since then, I’ve made some changes to how I travel: I always check my luggage claim tags while I’m still at the check-in desk. I also book longer-than-necessary layovers, and then use my Delta Platinum Medallion status to change to an earlier flight if my first flight arrives early enough. I also make sure that I have a working phone (I bring a Wi-Fi hotspot that enables calling) and know who to contact when things go wrong.

Like the authors of many mistake stories, Steph isn’t entirely culpable for missing her connection, but greater vigilance on her part could have helped prevent it. You should always inspect claim tags as she suggests, not only to verify your bags are headed to the right place, but also to make sure you’ve been given the right tags in the first place. Giving yourself extra time on layovers is also a good recommendation — airlines set their own minimum connection times based on the airport and type of connection, but those schedules may leave little margin for error. Personally, I’d rather plan for a longer stop and travel at a relaxed pace, especially if there’s a decent lounge nearby.

Once Steph missed the checked bag cutoff in Brussels, another approach she could have tried is to bypass the check-in desk entirely. Assuming she wasn’t carrying anything that had to be checked for security reasons and that she didn’t have an unwieldy amount of stuff in tow, she likely could have made it to her gate and tried to explain the situation there. A sympathetic gate agent would have plenty of latitude to handle her surplus baggage either by gate checking it or (if it was carry-on sized) simply allowing it on board. Even if Steph was turned away, she wouldn’t have been much worse off so long as she could still switch to a later flight.

Related: Where do I clear customs on international flights with connections?

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Steph a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Dawid Kalisinski Photography/Getty Images.

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