In a spontaneous moment of desire to be with family, I decided to follow my father back to the U.S. after his two weeks stay with me here in East Jerusalem. I packed a single carry-on bag and left my camera gear behind. The flight back to the U.S. was without issue. But in return, I was told the plane was full and I had to check my bag at the bottom of the ramp, just before boarding the plane. There was not a lot of time to think, and my hands can carry only so many items. I boarded with a book and the pairs of climbing and running shoes I had slung over my shoulder.
I arrived to Tel Aviv … but my bag did not. After five days of calling Delta, morning and night, yesterday an account manager declared my bag officially lost. They have twenty one days to locate it before we begin what I can only assume will be an arduous process of negotiation. I can only hope that as my bag was not intended to be checked, the value of its contents more than $4300, I will be given some consideration.
In the process of working through this ordeal, I discovered a highly broken system in which no one is held accountable and what’s worse, there is little anyone can do when I am told over and over again that internal to Delta, both phone and email are prohibited—only their internal messaging system is used for lost & found. Each time I called the conversation started the same way, “Mr. Staats. We are doing everything we can to locate your suitcase.”
To which I would respond, “It’s not a suitcase. It is a professional photographer’s backpack.”
“Oh? Well, the system says only ‘black bag’.”
“What? In Tel Aviv I completed a full report. Did that not get entered into the system?”
“Is says only ‘black bag’ Mr. Staats.”
“Unbelievable. I called yesterday and gave the entire description.”
“I am sorry Mr. Staats, but there is no data in your file other than ‘black bag’.”
This happened three days in a row, for a total of a half dozen calls. Each time I gave the full description. Each time the data was not entered despite that person’s promise. Once, the conversation went something like this.
I was nearly shouting, “What?! I just spoke to an account manager this morning. She said she entered the bag description and contents. Again. What exactly is happening on that end? Do you just say you are entering data but not doing anything?”
“Mr. Staats. Sometimes, when people speak too quickly, or say too much, it is difficult for us to enter all they provide.”
“I answered the questions given to me. No more. No less. I described the contents.”
“We need only three or four unique items. What you have given to me is too much.”
“Uh, ok. So you are saying that if someone gives too much information, nothing is entered at all?”
“Mr. Staats, I am just saying it says only ‘black bag’.”
I attempted to clarify, but she interrupted me time and time again. I sensed this could go downhill quickly, and if I heard my name used in that horribly controlling tone again, I was going to scream.
“How many black bags do you believe are in your warehouse at JFK?”
“Right. So five days into this, the process of searching for my bag has not yet begun.”
But this is where it got really strange.
“Sir. We have had the tag number from the start. We have been searching for the tag.”
To which I responded, “And what if the tag fell off?”
“Oh. We have a very sophisticated destroyed tag location system.”
This was starting to feel like a bad dream or an episode from “The Twilight Zone.” My head was starting to spin, the quagmire taking hold and squeezing my brain. I took a deep breath, “A what?”
“A destroyed tag location system,” she repeated.
“That makes no sense. How can you locate a tag if it is destroyed? If there is no tag, there is nothing to locate!”
“It’s very sophisticated.” I had nothing to say. She continued, “Sir, we find thousands of bags every year. In fact, we just found one today.”
This implied they also lost thousands of bags every year. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
I said, “So. Let me get this straight. My bag is listed only as black. It may or may not have a tag. The tag may be destroyed. But your sophisticated destroyed tag location system will find both the tag and my bag?”
“Yes Mr. Staats, that is correct.”
I could think only that Delta should be employed to search for missing socks in laundromats, or for missing children around the world.
She concluded, as they always do, “Thank you for choosing Delta. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
How, exactly, does one respond?