Missing baggage adds to chaos at Canadian airports

Sara Formel’s family vacation last week to Scotland for a friend’s wedding was supposed to be one of those trips of a lifetime. But instead, she said, it turned into “a trip from hell.”

That’s because the family’s luggage — including wedding attire and a car seat for Formel’s nine-month-old — didn’t make it on their June 18 Air Canada flight from Toronto to Edinburgh.

The family spent much of their week-long vacation shopping for necessities and trying to get answers from Air Canada.

“It’s been horrible,” said Formal, who lives in Conway, Ark. “We were stripped of everything that we had, and I don’t know when we’ll get it back.”

Due to a surge in demand and staffing shortages, some major Canadian airports have recently been plagued with long lineups, delays and flight cancellations.

On top of that, travelers are complaining about another major problem: missing baggage, which sometimes fails to arrive during their trip.

Sara Formal, her husband Joe and nine-month-old child had to scramble to buy necessities in Scotland after their luggage failed to arrive. (Submitted by Sara Formel)

“It’s frustrating,” said WestJet passenger Joni Hirtle of Calgary. She was reunited with her luggage on Saturday — a week after her nine-day trip to Costa Rica.

Hirtle’s suitcase disappeared after she boarded the second leg of her flight from Toronto. Its contents included $400 hiking boots and a wad of cash totaling $750 hidden in a sock.

During a stopover in Toronto on the way home, Hirtle inquired at WestJet’s baggage claim counter.

There were “tons of bags sitting there” and at the baggage claim in Calgary, she said. “They don’t have enough resources to be addressing these issues.”

When Air Canada passenger Harrison Burton landed in Montreal, en route to Moncton on Friday, he was so overwhelmed by the piles of unclaimed luggage, he posted a video on Facebook.

“It’s chaos,” he says in the video. “It’s insane. They need to fix this.”

Travelers are seen amid unclaimed luggage at an airport.
After landing in Montreal, Harrison Burton posted took this photo showing piles of unclaimed baggage at the airport. (Submitted by Harrison Burton)

Burton didn’t find his luggage in Montreal, and hoped it would appear when he landed in Moncton, where he lives. However, he’s still waiting for it.

“It [feels] like the face of capitalism basically saying, ‘You know what, we don’t actually care about people. We just want your money and you’ll get your luggage when you get your luggage,'” he said in an interview.

What’s being done?

The federal government has hired more border officers and security staff at airports to help ease the bottlenecks at airports, though Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has pointed some blame at the airlines, saying last week they must also “do their part.”

Air Canada says most passengers arrive at their destination with their luggage, but acknowledges that the number who don’t has recently increased.

The airline says many of the reasons behind baggage delays — such as airport backlogs — are outside its control.

“When an aircraft is held at a gate because of a customs backlog inside the terminal, it may not be loaded on time for its next flight,” said spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

“Be assured that avoiding baggage delays is a top priority for us.”

WestJet blamed missing baggage on myriad challenges including resource constraints, flight delays and cancellations.

The airline is “actively working to resolve” baggage delays, said spokesperson Madison Kruger in an email.

Carleton University business associate professor Ian Lee said all parties involved — airlines, airports and the government — are all to blame for the current chaos, because they failed to properly prepare for the anticipated post-pandemic surge in travel.

“It just seems to me, it’s been a lot of — no pun intended — flying by the seat of their pants instead of a more, shall we say, strategic approach to the reopening of the air travel sector,” he said.

WATCH | Travelers complain of lost baggage:

Luggage delays added to Canadian travel woes

Luggage delays are adding to the problems Canadian air travelers face, with some airports seeing mounds of bags piled up and some travelers not getting their luggage during an entire trip.

Alghabra said on Monday the bottlenecks at major airports have improved and that Ottawa is working with airports and airlines to tackle baggage delays and other lingering problems.

“We’re treating this with the greatest sense of urgency,” he said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, Formal and Burton are still waiting for their luggage.

Their one consolation: under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulationstravelers with lost, damaged or delayed luggage can file a claim for expenses incurred for up to approximately $2,300.

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