Old Aug 20, 2007, 8:19 PM
hughiam hughiam is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 1
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On Sunday, August 5, 2007 I was scheduled to fly from Marquette, Michigan (NWA Flight 3194) through Detroit Metropolitan Airport, to Washington-Dulles (NWA Flight 1406) on Northwest Airlines. Then, once I reached Washington, I switched airlines and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa on South African Airlines (SAA Flight 208).

When I checked into the Marquette Airport (Sawyer International) NWA Flight 3194 I handed my packet of tickets and passport to the girl behind the counter and asked her to check my bags all the way to Johannesburg.

I was given back my packet of tickets and boarding pass as well as a luggage claim.

My travel agent, Gracy Travel of San Antonio, Texas had booked my flights and suggested that upon arriving in Detroit that I try to catch an earlier flight to Washington-Dulles (NWA Flight 1402) and avoid a lengthy 5 hour layover.

When I reached Detroit, I approached an NWA ticket agent and handed her my packet of tickets and asked her to check and see if I could get on the earlier flight. When she examined them to see what my original flight was, she was surprised to notice that my original flight from Detroit to Dulles (NWA Flight 1406) had been cancelled and that the ticket agent in Marquette had not taken my hard ticket from Marquette to Detroit. She indicated that these were two mistakes by the NWA personnel in Marquette and she booked me on the earlier flight (NWA Flight 1402) from Detroit to Dulles. She did not inquire about my baggage and I assumed that it would automatically be forwarded on to Dulles and ultimately on to Johannesburg as I had asked the ticket agent in Marquette to do.

The flight from Detroit to Dulles was delayed by almost two hours which left very little time to reach my flight from Dulles to Johannesburg. However I did end up having over an hour once I reached Dulles to check in with South African Airlines (SAA). When I reached the SAA ticket counter in Dulles I checked in to get my boarding pass and the agent behind the counter said something that shocked me when he said “Oh you don’t have any baggage?”

I said I did and it was checked through to Johannesburg as I had asked the NWA ticket personnel in Marquette to make sure it was checked to my final destination. He asked to see my baggage claim ticket and informed me that my bags were only checked through to Detroit and the NWA personnel had made a mistake. He suggested I run over to the NWA ticket counter and tell them of their mistake and see if they could do anything about it.

I did that and met with a ticket agent at an NWA ticket counter and explained that their employee had made now a third mistake and my bags were in Detroit. He agreed that indeed the NWA personnel had made several mistakes, but he wasn’t going to do anything about it and that I should take it up with SAA when I got to Johannesburg.

I tried to explain that I was headed out to a remote bush camp when I reached Johannesburg on a once in a lifetime bowhunt. Wasn’t there anything that they could do seeing that this was entirely the fault of NWA? If they started work on getting my bags to me they could be there the following day. Further, if I waited until I got to Johannesburg it would be a day later and would ultimately delay my bags for another two days or so.

I also explained that I was paying over $300.00 a day to “bow hunt” and without my bow, due to NWA’s mistakes, I would not be able to hunt. It was in fact as though I was being penalized for NWA’s mounting number of mistakes. Further, I only had two days of Malaria Medication with me and I needed my bags to insure that not only my Malaria Medication arrived, but also my other prescription medications I take daily. He flatly refused to do anything about the bags and basically dismissed me. I asked see a supervisor and he said “One was not available”.

I went back to SAA and flew out to Johannesburg reaching my destination on Monday, August 6. I immediately filed a “missing baggage form” through SAA with the following number AHL#JNBSA95800. I was informed that my bags would arrive on Tuesday, August 7. I rented a cellular phone at the airport so that I could be contacted by SAA if there were any problems and so that I could call SAA or NWA to check on the progress of the bags.

The bush camp I was staying at had both phone and internet services and they said they would keep in touch with SAA to make sure that when my bags arrived, they would send for them.

I called my wife back in the states and asked her to follow up with NWA to make sure they received the request and that my bags were going to be sent out. She then began what was a series of dozens of phone calls over the next ten days to try and determine the status of my bags.

During those calls, she called the NWA’s Detroit baggage department many, many times. Despite making that many calls, she was nearly always given a busy signal after reaching the prerecorded message. Only two times was she actually “connected” to a ringing line. The first time she was placed on hold 30 minutes and the second time for almost 45 minutes.

She also tried contacting Central Baggage in Minneapolis on many, many occasions and also, never actually had the call answered. During this time frame she also began a series of calls to NWA’s customer service numbers and they would refer her to either the Detroit Baggage Department or Central Baggage. When she explained that she had done that numerous times, they said “Keep trying”. She also tried the 1-800 number for Baggage listed on the NWA website, she was informed by an NWA employee that the people in Central Baggage “don’t answer their phones and it was a waste of time calling them”.

In addition to the people in the phone bank telling her that Central Baggage would not answer their phones, it was noted that emails sent from passengers and other airline personnel would also go unanswered.

This was further reinforced by SAA in writing through an email that SAA had repeatedly sent emails to Detroit Baggage and they had “never responded”.

As was mentioned above, each day I spent at the camp was costing me over $300.00 and I was supposed to spend those days hunting. There was not an opportunity to borrow other people’s equipment as learning to shoot a bow requires months of diligent practice with the piece of equipment you intend to use. Borrowing unfamiliar equipment would lead to the possible wounding of an animal and is not considered ethical or acceptable. I pride myself on being sponsored by 3 different archery related companies, and hold myself to the highest acceptable standards.

By now I was several days into my dream vacation that NWA had turned into a nightmare. I was without my equipment, without my medication and with just the clothes on my back.

Daily calls from me, my wife and the lodge to NWA were going unanswered, ignored or responded to with answers that basically told us to “talk to someone else”. Emails sent by my wife, the lodge and SAA went unanswered. You must understand that all my calls were at international rates as were those of the lodge.

After 4 days, SAA was able to determine through the computer records that my bags were “gone”. Gone? Yes they were no longer in Detroit, and there was no record of what happened to them. Over $6,000.00 of luggage that included a limited edition bow of which only 250 were made were “gone” with no record.

My wife started calling every NWA number she could and also called my Travel Agent to see if he could do anything. So now my wife, my travel agent, my lodge, SAA and I were constantly trying to talk to “someone” with no success. My wife finally reached someone at the 1800 NWA baggage number to try and determine where my bags were as “gone” was not a definitive answer. She was told by an NWA employee at the 1800 NWA baggage number that my luggage claim ticket numbers had been “recycled” and that NWA just reuses the claim ticket numbers after about a week. Further, that when they looked up my claim ticket numbers, there was a different name on them. But, “Did I have Travel Insurance?” No, we didn’t have travel insurance, because even though we all experience a delayed bag from time to time, wasn’t it the airlines responsibility to hire and train the employees to a level of competence to have both the passenger and the baggage arrive at the same place at nearly the same time?

Finally my wife reached Laurie Knittle in the Washington-Dulles NWA offices, who began working on the lost bags. My wife told her about the recycled bag numbers and Ms. Knittle said that was a mistake, that the numbers were used once only. Now, how can a representative in the Baggage Department give out such false information? It is just one more in the string of mistakes made by NWA personnel. To Ms. Knittle’s credit, she was the only employee to call my wife back and show a level of interest in this situation.

It was apparent by now that I would spend the rest of my trip reading a book in camp. While I had taken my video camera in a carry on bag, the battery had died the first day and my charger was in the bags that were now missing due to NWA’s garden of mistakes.

My wife began contacting our local NWA office here at the Marquette/Sawyer Airport. Although she spoke with a “Randy”, “Dean” and ultimately the manager Ron Tutor, and they promised they would look into the claim and get back to her, as of today August 20, she has yet to receive a call back.

On Saturday, August 18 I arrived back in Washington/Dulles and checked through U.S Customs. They asked me where my bags were and I told them they were lost on the trip over. They said “Let me guess, Northwest Airlines, right”. I said yes how did you know and they responded without prompting, that “Northwest was the worst for losing bags and they see guys like me go through their all the time with ruined hunting trips”.

After clearing customs, I went to the NWA ticket counter to check in for my flight to Detroit. The women at the counter asked about checked baggage and I told them it was lost on the way over, and that it was the result of the original NWA ticket agent in Marquette not checking my bags through to Johannesburg. One of the ladies then informed me that the staff at the Marquette/Sawyer airport were not NWA employees, and that they were of private contractors who didn’t know what they were doing. Also, that repeatedly the small airport private contractors were making this kind of mistake. And “Did I have travel insurance?”

The NWA ticket agent at Dulles did ask questions about the bags and asked for the claim numbers on the bags. I told her that my wife had been told that the numbers had been reissued by the NWA employee through the 1800 NWA number. She said that was a mistake and the numbers were never reused. Again, two different answers about the baggage claim numbers.

While I was waiting for my flight she left that area and went to another area out of sight and checked on the bags. Shortly thereafter, she returned and said “THE BAGS ARE IN JOHANNESBURG.” There is no way that they were in Johannesburg I said, because, my travel agent, the SAA representative, my wife, the lodge owners and several of their own employees had been monitoring the status of the bags through NWA and as recently as the day before, they were just “gone” with no record of where they had been.

How could dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls regarding these two bags have been told the wrong information time after time? No, she assured me that they were in Johannesburg. In fact she tried calling the SAA office in Johannesburg but could not get through. Okay, could they do anything to get them back for me? No, even though there is now a mountain of mistakes and countless examples of horrible customer service, I would have to follow up at my expense with SAA.

Prior to leaving for the United States I had contacted my travel agent to see if upon my return flight to the United States he could book an extended layover in Detroit. I wanted to check for myself to see if the bags were there.

When I landed in Detroit I immediately went to the baggage claim area. There were four women working in baggage claims and I told them the entire story of how my bags were lost, how my vacation had been ruined, how my health had been put to risk etc. and could we try to determine how my bags had ended up “gone”. I further requested to look in the lost baggage area to see if my bags were still there.

These four women also confirmed that the employees at the Marquette/Sawyer airport were not NWA employees and NWA had hired a “bunch of morons” to work at these small airports. And, “Did I have travel insurance”?

I was allowed to look in the lost baggage area and my bags were indeed gone. Then they said it wasn’t an “NWA problem and I had to follow up with SAA”. I explained to them that SAA had followed up and the problem was with the lack of any record of what happened to my bags. After nearly 10 minutes, one of them actually began to look into the computer to see what had happened. Four employees, and I was the only one in the office and it took 10 minutes for them to get moving.

They confirmed what I had been told in Washington/Dulles that my bags were in Johannesburg. I asked, “How do you confirm that, what procedure was in place to document that they were sent?” She said there were notes in the computer. I asked for a copy of what was on her screen and she refused. She said SAA has access to these same notes. I said I needed a copy for my records and she again refused.

As part of the conversation one of the ladies said that there was an expedited tag number put on the bags. Okay, what are those numbers, who signed for them, what date was it sent, what flight were they sent out on?

After about 20 minutes one of the other women got up and said there should be a hard copy of the expedited tags “somewhere”. By now, I asked for a supervisor and was told, “She’s only going to tell you the same thing we’ve told you”.

Finally, one of them retrieved the hard copies of the expedited tags and I had her make me a copy of them. We have sent those numbers out to SAA via email and are awaiting their reply.

By now other people were coming in to file claims on lost bags and as I was not going to let either of the women drop me .The manager finally came out and to say she was indignant, bordering on rude would be an understatement and through the whole experience I felt that all any employee of NWA wanted to do was make me “go away”. This was later confirmed by an employee of NWA who said that was the typical strategy. In fact it was common to keep putting people off who lost bags until they quit complaining.

I asked if someone could call SAA or NWA/KLM in Johannesburg to follow up on this as I was standing there in front of them. They said they don’t call internationally for customers. Not two hours earlier the NWA employee in Dulles had done just that. How many mistakes does this make now?

After I left the baggage claim area with the expedited tag numbers, I went to the NWA Customer Service Counter. There were two ladies there, one obviously reading a very good book as she seemed bugged to have to put it down to address me.

I gave them the entire tale, from start to finish and asked if there was anything that they could do? I explained all the mistakes, the costs I had incurred, the rudeness of their employees. I was told that, Marquette had hired unqualified personnel and they were aware of the problems with the people in baggage claims, but that I had to follow up with SAA. And “Did I have travel insurance”? This question seems to be the safety net used by NWA employees to put the burden of lost luggage and ruined vacation expense back on the customer and not accept responsibility.

I asked a very pointed question, how come after all this stress and inconvenience and expense had been explained countless times, why was it that no one ever took the time to say “Your right, let me help you and fix this”? They had no answer, but were happy to give me a pamphlet that showed me who to forward this email to.

How hard would it be for an NWA/KLM employee working in the Johannesburg airport to walk over to SAA and look for my bags? How come there is no mechanism in place to try and accommodate the customer? Again, they smiled and circled the phone number and website for me.

And finally as I arrived home in Marquette, my wife who has the tenacity of a bulldog and has spent the last 12 days (when not working and being a mom) on the phone following up on this situation, informed me that she had had one more conversation with the manager, Ron Tutor, of the Marquette/ Sawyer airport. He had informed her that the original ticket agent that had started this whole mess “no longer worked for the airline”. Although he didn’t say it in so many words, it was my wife’s distinct impression that the manager had fired her due to a series of mistakes.

As of today I have lost $6,052.00 in luggage and archery gear (I have an itemized list), $2,150.00 in airfare, $4,472.40 in the fees paid to “hunt” of which I was denied. Due to mistakes of astronomical proportions by NWA Employees or their contracted employees I have incurred expenses and losses of over $12,500.00.

I’m not a wealthy man who can go to Africa whenever I please. This was potentially the trip of a lifetime. For the last two years I have worked two jobs, sacrificed, scrimped and saved to make this trip a reality. My family has been unbelievably considerate in doing without to help me afford this trip. The massive disappointment is nearly as damaging as the huge financial loss.

In light of the mistakes I have documented, and those identified by your own employees, in light of the way I was treated, in light of the fact that an employee was potentially fired over this situation, I would like to know answers to the following questions:

-Given that NWA or its representatives are entirely responsible for this situation, what are they going to do to follow up with SAA to retrieve my bags?

-How quickly will I be reimbursed for the total cost of my trip and baggage if it is not retrieved?

Your timely response and compensation is requested as I have forwarded a copy of this correspondence on to the various persons, websites, legislators and periodicals listed below so that they can consider the treatment of your customers before making any travel decisions*.


Hugh Leslie
296 West M-94
Skandia, MI 49885

• Safari Club International
• National Rifle Association
• C.P. Oneida Eagle Bows
• Carbon Express Arrows
• Easton Archery
• The National Taxidermist Association
• Breakthrough Magazine
• Taxidermy Today Magazine
• The Marquette Mining Journal
• Big Game Adventures Magazine
• Peterson’s Bowhunting Magazine
• Bowhunter Magazine
• Gracy Travel Agency
• Sawyer International Airport
• Detroit Metropolitan Airport
• Washington-Dulles Airport
• Cabelas
• The Outdoor Channel
• Professional Hunters Association of South Africa
• International Professional Hunters Association
• U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak
• Representative Tom Casperson
• Representative Steven Lindberg

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