Match this for the worst Lost-Luggage Story.
I’ve been a professional photographer who, over the years, has had the opportunity to work on a great number of international assignments for magazines, corporations, agencies and a vast number of my own personal projects. My wife Sue and I (Sue works as my photo-assistant) were on our way to Europe and Africa to spend several months photographing Perugia, Italy; Bielsko-Biala, Poland; and Ga District of Ghana. The photography would be used to decorate a new JW Marriott being built in Grand Rapids, Michigan, requiring nearly 1,500 custom-printed, signed and framed photographs for 23 floors of guest rooms, suites, a lounge, 21 elevator landing and a large gallery.
We travel with a tremendous amount of camera gear, computer equipment, gifts for all the hosts and helpers, general supplies that we need for two months on the road, not to mention summer clothes for three weeks of shooting in Italy, clothes warm enough for three weeks in Poland in October and really light clothes for the African tropics. We needed a home base where we could fly in from the U.S. and store half of the bags and more than half of the paraphernalia we were carrying that we didn’t need at the other destinations. Oh how I long for the days when we traveled with one backpack each.
Krakow, Poland became our home base and our first stopover in Europe. It was the cheapest airfare to Europe and a short drive to Bielsko-Biala where I had three weeks of photography coming up after Italy. We flew into Krakow for only a day, long enough to leave behind the two heaviest bags at a hotel in the historic center. I’d always wanted to spend time photographing Krakow, so by making it our base camp, I would return several times throughout the next two months to photograph this remarkably beautiful city. And we would have someone there who, while we were on the road, we could trust to watch over all our belongings, in addition to an ever-growing collection of photo files on DVDs and two 500 gig external hard drives. The arrangements were made.
The plan immediately went sour before even leaving the States. Our flight on LOT (Polish Airlines), a nonstop from Chicago to Krakow was late coming into O’Hare having left Warsaw four hours late. I had picked this particular non-stop because it was very unlikely that we would lose any of our bags along the way. But when we finally got to Krakow, none of our four checked bags were on board. Everything had been left in Chicago. Devastated by the fact we had very little to work with, we left for Rome the next afternoon with just two camera bodies and four lenses that were in my backpack and my Mac laptop on Sue’s back. We had no clothes, no supplies, no battery chargers, no computer cables, and worst of all, no tripod. And did I mention no clothes!
The three hour train trip from Rome to Perugia, Grand Rapids’ sister city in Italy, wondering if we would ever see our bags again.
We were given a wonderful apartment in the historic center owned by the commune of Perugia, but unfortunately had nothing to unpack. I did what photography I could for nearly a week when we got word that all four of our bags had finally shown up in Rome. They offered to deliver them to us but we would have to wait another five days before we’d see them. Starved for clean clothes, supplies and equipment, we immediately left for Rome at our own expense. Retrieving our bags took up an entire ten-hour day, but we had clean clothes. LOT Airlines generously gave us each $50 for the entire period of time we were without bags. That was our total compensation.
We finished our work in Perugia and returned to Rome for our trip back to Krakow. When we checked in, we were informed that because we now had all four bags, including the two that were supposed to have been left behind in Krakow, we now owed the airline $200 more for the extra two bags. After half an hour of arguments, we paid them their money and boarded the flight back to Poland. When we arrived in Krakow, we were told the airline had left two of our bags back in Rome.
While in Krakow, we filed a report with the LOT office. All matters of lost luggage were handled only in Warsaw so we couldn’t get an answer while we were there. When we got home a month later, we had received a letter from Warsaw informing us that we had waited too long to file a complaint. In an Eastern European attitude more reminiscent of the Cold War years, we were blown off and told they were sorry about that, but those are the rules.
We will never fly LOT again. Those are OUR rules.