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The lost shall be found

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As some of you may recall, about six weeks ago, I lost my waistpack while flying Northwest Airlines on the way home from WisCon and Chicago. I tried contacting Northwest lost & found, but to no avail (and much frustration).

Note: This entry is yet another long and overly detailed recounting by Jed of bureaucratic hassles. Most of the reason I'm going into so much detail here is that this entry will probably turn up in web searches having to do with the Northwest Airlines luggage office, and I want to provide searchers with potentially useful info (and let them know what avenues are dead ends).

I decided the pack and its contents were permanently lost, and I more or less moved on. I got my work badge replaced (and the old one deactivated); I determined that I needed to make an appointment and pay a bunch of money to get a new Prius key made (so I put off doing that); I stopped riding my bike to work because I didn't have a way to lock it up and I kept forgetting to get either a new lock or a replacement key.

And then this past Wednesday I received an email from someone at the Minneapolis NWA luggage office, saying that they had my waistpack. It contained my SH business cards, which have my name and the fiction@ email address on them, so she sent the note to fiction@. (Side note: it never occurred to me to put a card containing my phone number in my waistpack, but I think I will from now on.)

I was amazed and delighted. I wrote her back; I also called the MSP NWA luggage number and left a message with my contact info. In the email, I gave them an address to mail the pack to. (Kam's address, so that my house keys wouldn't be mailed to my house.)

Got a call back on Thursday from someone else at that office. She said that they couldn't mail it to me, but that they could send it to a local airport for me to pick up, or I could obtain a FedEx shipper number and they could ship it there. The FedEx thing sounded like a hassle, so I asked her to just send it to SJC for me to pick up. I figured it would be a few days, but she said it would go out on the next flight and should be at SJC by that evening, and that someone at SJC would call me when it came in.

You will have guessed by now that I did not receive a phone call from SJC Thursday night.

Nor Friday morning.

By late morning on Friday, I decided that I'd better follow up. I knew already that NWA's website would be useless for finding phone numbers. I tried calling SJC's general L&F department (number is on the SJC website); an annoyed-sounding woman gave me the NWA@SJC L&F number: 408-282-1903. I called that half a dozen times over the course of half an hour or so, but it was always busy.

Thought it might be the wrong number, so I tried calling the NWA main 800 number (or maybe it's specifically the reservations number); asked the New Reservation agent for the SJC NWA luggage office phone number. She said she didn't have that information. I asked if she knew who could give it to me. She started asking questions about the situation, and ended up making some calls herself. Which is great, but I really wish she would've just given me the number.

It became clear that I wasn't going to get anywhere through that route. So I called the MSP NWA luggage office again (this time using the number they'd called me from, which connected me to a live human; see below), and a woman there immediately and cheerfully gave me the correct SJC NWA luggage-office number: 408-441-5502. She also said there was no tracking number; the bag would just be in a box that had been sent to SJC. (And though she wasn't personally familiar with the specific situation, she said it was likely that the bag was in San José by now.) I called that number; it was an automated line, of course, with the option to leave a message. So I left a message.

What's particularly galling about the difficulty of finding that number is that it's presumably the number that they give out to passengers at the airport whose luggage disappears. It's not a state secret. It's not like they'll be deluged with calls if they give it out. NWA just seems to have a culture of phone number secrecy, everywhere except the very nice people at MSP. Passengers/customers aren't to be told any phone numbers; they might use them!

On a later web search, I found NWA's full list of luggage-desk numbers (PDF). It doesn't seem to be linked from their site. And it may be outdated--it gives the -1903 number for San José. But I figured it was worth mentioning just in case it's of use to someone.

Anyway. After I'd called the SJC NWA luggage office, I figured I was just gonna have to wait for them to get around to calling me. But then I realized: SJC is a 15-minute drive from here. There was a good chance that the pack was there. Why not just go ask them in person? That'll give them a face to associate with the name, which may make them more interested in acting on this issue.

So I drove to SJC. Found parking, went into the baggage claim area. Found luggage offices for, I think, every other airline that flies out of that terminal--but not NWA.

I asked at another airline's office, and they said that NWA's luggage issues are handled by the ticket-counter agents.

So I walked the length of the terminal (but it's a small terminal) to the NWA ticket counter.

Good news: no line.

Bad news: a couple of passengers standing at the counter, talking in a stressed-sounding way with the sole agent on duty, who was on the phone apparently trying to sort things out for them.

I waited in the non-line for about 15-20 minutes. Good thing I had my iPhone and free wi-fi.

Eventually another agent showed up. I told her my situation and my name. The first agent, the one on the phone, paused her phone call to say something like "Yeah, that came in--it's in the back." I refrained from wondering aloud why they hadn't called me.

The second agent told me that their luggage room is behind the United ticket counters, and I'd have to wait for her to go find my waistpack.

So I waited, roughly another five minutes. And she brought it out!

And then, standing in front of me, holding my waistpack, she said, "Can you tell me what's in it, to show that it's yours?"

I said, "Um, keys? Business cards with my name on them?" She looked as though she were waiting for something in particular. I said, "Work badge with my photo and name on it?" She smiled as if I'd passed the test, and handed me the bag.

If she had seen my photo and name on the badge, why was she asking me to prove it was mine?

Sigh.

But despite all of my complaints about the way they handled it, the really key point is this:

They found my waistpack, and I got it back. Even though it's been missing for six weeks, there appears to be nothing missing from it. My car key, house key, and bike key are there. My old work badge is there. My camera case and extra battery are there. (The camera was in my pocket, so I still had that.) My business card case and cards are there. My flashlight is there. Everything that was in it.

I do wonder where it was for six weeks, but that's not so important at this point.

I'll close with one more phone number: the secret phone number for reaching a live person at the MSP NWA luggage office. I got it from caller ID when they called me. I'm hesitant about posting this one, because the MSP NWA people were so nice to me, and it seems a little unfair to them to publicly post a phone number that they clearly don't want the public calling.

But having this number sooner would've made this whole process a lot easier and more pleasant for me, and if I hadn't tried this number, then I would still be sitting around waiting for someone to call me.

So. If you need to contact the MSP NWA luggage people, the first thing you should do is call their public-facing recording: 612-726-2534. That may be specifically the Lost & Found number; not sure. It's the number I gave last time, and it's hard to get even that one out of the NWA people. That number will let you leave a message saying your name and phone number and what you're missing, and they'll call you back if and only if they find what you're missing.

But if you've tried that and it hasn't helped, and you need to talk with a live person, then call this number: 612-726-2530. They're nice folks, so please be nice to them, and don't use that number unless you have to.

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Thanks for sharing this, especially the link to the Luggage Office PDF. I'm trying to get ahold of the folks at DTW NWA and this will hopefully do it...


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