One bag, 12 days, three continents

“My bag is in Kinshasa,” is a sentence which I have said, or variations of it, more than any other over the last two weeks. I am so glad I won’t have to say it anymore.

Somehow, returning from Brussels, Belgium, the part of my luggage containing most of my clothes was sent to Kinshasa by mistake. What made the matter so frustrating was not that I had only two shirts to wear, but that Continental Airlines officials either did not care very much or just weren’t doing their jobs right; it was I who had to figure out where the bag was and how to get it back.

When I arrived in Tampa, it became evident rather quickly that one of my bags had not arrived on the flight with me. I went to Continental’s customer care office at the airport, gave some information about the bag and was told it would most likely be on the next flight from Brussels, which meant it would probably arrive the next day. I sighed but did not take the matter too seriously, as I had lost part of my luggage before (on the trip to Brussels six weeks earlier, for example) but it had always reappeared and been delivered within a day or two.

Monday afternoon, though, while still trying to deal with the hurdles every student has to overcome in the first week of class, I received a rather cryptic message on my cell phone’s voicemail. After listening to it several times, it began to sink in: Somehow my bag had found its way onto a flight by Hewa Bora Airlines and was now in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire, former Belgian Congo). I jotted down the information given to me, including the phone number of the man who said, “I have your piece of luggage right here,” called Continental and gave them all the information.

“But I don’t understand, sir, why wouldn’t they just send it to Tampa? That would make so much more sense,” came the answer from the airline representative somewhere in the bowels of a Houston-based call-center.

Thinking that it would have made “so much more sense” for my bag not to be sent to Kinshasa in the first place (considering it’s not even in the right hemisphere), I stayed calm and explained what I thought had happened. From past experience, I had learned that yelling at people who share no personal guilt for losing luggage does not help anyway. I was told they would contact the person who had my bag and call me back.

They never did call back.

The next day I called again, asked if they had located my bag and when I would get it back. The lady at the other end of the line, while being friendly, had no clue what I was talking about. I explained it again. Again I was assured they would contact the number I had given them.

Next day: Dial, ask, explain all over again. By then I was getting annoyed but thought I’d give them another chance.

Thursday I looked up contact numbers of Hewa Bora Airline in Brussels, called Continental — who still did not know where my bag was even though I had by then spoken with the person who had left the initial message and confirmed he indeed had it — and essentially told them “here is the number of the airline who has my bag. I am 100 percent sure they have it; please call them.”

The next day they still claimed they did not know where my bag was.

To make a long story short: I finally got my bag back last Friday, 12 days after it had been “lost.” I had given Continental detailed information about where it was and whom to call, but in the end it had been Hewa Bora Airlines who made sure it got to Tampa, not Continental. Flight connections to Kinshasa are not the best, but by then I could have flown there three times to pick up the bag.

Even though I told them where it was and whom to call, an international corporation such as Continental Airlines could not track my bag down.

I don’t know how representative this is of Continental’s customer care, but it does not bode well.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and the Oracle Opinion editor.