Stu Bykofsky: Luggage: Having a wonderful time, wish you were here

with their once-MIA luggage.JOSEPH KACZMAREK / FOR THE DAILY NEWS
with their once-MIA luggage.JOSEPH KACZMAREK / FOR THE DAILY NEWS (Karen and Patrick Noonan)
Posted: August 04, 2011

WHILE PATRICK and Karen Noonan were beached, their luggage enjoyed a leisurely Mediterranean vacation, all by itself.

The story begins Friday morning, July 1, when the Noonans went to Philadelphia International for a flight to Barcelona. They were to land in Spain early Saturday with enough time to board a cruise they had booked.

The short version of the story, according to Karen: After 12 agonizing hours at our airport, with no clear explanation to passengers, their US Airways flight was canceled because of mechanical problems. Karen said customer-service reps wouldn't talk with them, steering them to an 800 number.

USAir spokesman Todd Lehmacher told me that the airline had set up a special desk to wrangle the problems of stranded passengers.

USAir got the Noonans, who are 28 and live in Phoenixville, on a Sunday flight to Munich, Germany, followed by a Lufthansa flight to Nice, France, where they joined their cruise. They made it; their baggage didn't. Gone, baby, gone. No one knew where.

I interrupt the narrative to tell you that Karen is a communications director for a local brewery and wise in the ways of grabbing press attention. Last Wednesday, she reached everyone - columnists, reporters, editors, TV and radio - with an email blast. (Had she been a bit wiser, she might have known that unless it's breaking news, journalists don't like chasing the same story. With that said - it worked.)

Having missed the first three days of their cruise, the Noonans boarded with nothing to wear other than what was on their backs. Out came the checkbook for clothes, cosmetics, incidentals. Ka-ching! About $750 was added to the cost of their vacation, and a portion of each day was wasted trying to locate luggage.

To its credit, USAir did fly the Noonans to Munich (upgraded to business class) and didn't charge them for the Lufthansa leg from Munich to Nice to join the cruise.

Back home, with their bags still AWOL, Karen began a fruitless process of telephonically banging on USAir's doors for her luggage and eventually requested compensation. (The airline emailed an offer of a $275 voucher to each Noonan. They don't know if they will claim it.)

The worst part of the three-week-long nightmare, Karen said, was "the lack of communication, the complete disregard for the customer experience."

For three solid weeks, she said, whenever she got someone at USAir on the phone who promised to look into it and call back, no one ever did.

After what she said were dozens of phone calls, the sole response came after she fired off emails to every executive she found on the US Airways website. She was called by someone in baggage who said he'd look for her missing suitcases.

You guessed it. He never called back.

Before the odyssey ended, USAir told me, the bags had been to Pisa, Nice, Rome and Venice. Karen thinks the luggage was put on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship the very day she disembarked.

Then, July 27, on the evening of the day Karen began e-blasting journalists (6ABC and Fox 29 covered the story), the intrepid bags arrived home, a little worse for wear, but intact.

To me, it looks as if USAir tried to do the right thing once the right person got involved. But that took longer than it should.

The thing that most galls the Noonans - and you, if you've had similar problems - is the omerta code of most airlines. They'd be smart to come clean with passengers, and even smarter to keep promises to return phone calls.

As for the well-traveled suitcases, they had no comment.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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