Moral: Don’t lose things while flying Northwest

Can I just mention that the automated systems for handling customer service issues at Northwest Airlines suck?

Even by my standards for bad customer service, these are pretty impressive.

  • Their preferred system is that you use their web form. It doesn't have an option for lost-and-found. If you use it to send them a note about luggage issues, you get an autoresponse that says they'll get back to you within ten to fourteen business days. I can't imagine anyone with any sort of luggage-related issue being content to wait that long to hear back from the airline.
  • So I dug around a little on their site and found their customer service number: 701-420-6282. Which is an automated phone tree. I eventually navigated to the lost-and-found section. Where I got a brief recorded statement saying that since carryons aren't tracked, and lots of people lose stuff while traveling all the time, I was out of luck. Then it just stopped. No further info, no further options, not even an explicit statement that the call was over. It was essentially saying "fuck you" and hanging up on me.

I was so angry that I actually hit my phone, something I've never ever done before. [Note: This did not in fact help. Fortunately, it also didn't damage the phone or my hand.] All I wanted to do was talk with a live human in a lost-and-found department. Other airlines and airports have lost-and-found departments with live sympathetic humans staffing them. It may well be that my house and car keys and my business cards and another important item are gone forever, but to be told flatly by a recording that it was simply impossible to ever recover any lost object was a terrible customer service experience.

This is a "Customers First" Customer Service Plan?

[Added later: on re-reading, this doesn't really seem especially worse than any of my other customer-service demon incidents. I don't know why I got more upset than usual over it. Maybe something about the tone of the recording? Maybe just general background grumpiness? Not sure.]

I ended up calling the reservations desk, because I knew that if I lied about why I was calling, I would get to speak to a live human, and I hoped they could transfer me. At that point, things started getting better. A human agent answered; I put on my most pitiful voice (which wasn't far from the truth by that point except that I was hiding the anger part of what I was feeling), explained that I had lost my keys while traveling, and asked if she could put me in touch with someone who could help. She first suggested that I try the website and the 701 phone number, and when I said I'd tried them and repeated that I had lost my keys and didn't want to have to wait 10-14 business days, she said that although she wasn't supposed to do this, she would contact various people and see what she could do. She took down all my info and forwarded a message to someone, I don't know who. I thanked her profusely, not least for being compassionate and friendly. I wanted to send NWA a note explicitly commending her, but I don't want to get her in trouble for going outside the bounds of her job and helping when she wasn't supposed to.

She also gave me the number for NWA's baggage department: 800-745-9798. The guy there took my info and made a call of his own, and said that he had left a message with the right people and they would only call me back if they find my item.

I still wasn't thrilled with the layer of indirection I was getting, so I looked online and found the MSP lost-and-found department's phone number: 612-726-5141. I spoke to a friendly and sympathetic woman there, who looked around and said they didn't have my stuff, but took my name and number in case it turns up. And she gave me the phone number of the NWA baggage dept in MSP (612-726-2534), which you would think that someone at NWA might have been willing to give me.

I figured I would also try ORD lost-and-found. I lost the bag somewhere between security in ORD and getting on the plane from MSP to SJC; my guess was that it was on the plane from ORD to MSP. But it might've been in ORD. So I looked on the ORD website and found that L&F for ORD is handled by the Chicago police, except for the parts that are handled by TSA and by the airlines themselves. (Notice how clever this is. If you lose something near the gate, it's up to the airlines to handle L&F, but Northwest's recording claims that things lost are irretrievable. Even though if you lose something anywhere else in the airport, there's an appropriate L&F department to talk with. In other words, NWA just can't be bothered to have a L&F department.) Called the Chicago police number given on the ORD site; a brusque police officer said they don't have my stuff. (He did clarify that they handle L&F on both sides of security, not just the public side, which wasn't clear on the ORD website.)

Tried TSA's L&F in Chicago (773-894-8760); got a recording, left a message.

Finally called the NWA/MSP baggage number, and left another message there, with an apology in case I was duplicating previous calls.

So now it's out of my hands; I just wait to see if anyone calls me. My guess is that they won't, and that the bag and its contents are gone. Which sucks, but isn't the worst possible thing ever.

But boy did NWA's "customer service" system make me mad.

I wrote up the relevant bits of the above and submitted them as a complaint via the customer-service web form. I assume I'll get an autoresponse saying that someone will reply in 10 to 14 business days.

7 Responses to “Moral: Don’t lose things while flying Northwest”

  1. Josh

    My similar tale of woe is sadly similar, except that I spent less time even trying to talk to the airline in general, and went straight to the airport personnel. Not that it actually helped. :^(

    I feel like the key thing I learned here is to immediately engage a human, and do not under any circumstances accept any assurances from them that things will be ok and you should stop worrying about it. They can help you, but they may not be willing to, but if you beg, plead, and cajole, you have a chance. If you let them slip away, you lose. :^(

  2. El Coyote Gordo

    They haven’t gotten any better since they lost our luggage years ago:


  3. Aliette de Bodard

    Wow, they’re really bad…
    I had a bad experience with a European company which lost a friend’s piece of luggage, but it pales in comparison to yours (our luggage at least turned up, even though she’d already left to go back home; and it did make its way back to her eventually, even though they broke it).
    I hope you can sort things out with them soon!

  4. Emily

    I’m going through the same hell with NWA right now. I lost my brand new camera with all 800 pictures from my trip on my way from Amsterdam to a layover in Detroit. Like you, I’m not sure where I lost it and I didn’t notice it was gone until I had already boarded my plane in Detroit for the last leg of my journey – meaning I couldn’t go in person to the NW Luggage Service Desk in Detroit OR in Amsterdam for help. At home, I went through the same automated phone nightmare as you, but when I actually got a hold of a real person and asked for help I was basically told TOO BAD, I can’t give you any phone numbers to call, you need to go back to the airport. When I tried to explain I was thousands of miles away from the airport, she didn’t really seem to care. I eventually got the number for NW Lost and Found in Detroit, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve been calling for 4 days straight and no one will pick up. And I still can’t find a lost and found number to call for NWA in Amsterdam.

    Meanwhile, I filed online claims with both the airport lost and found’s and received timely and polite replies 2 days later. Now it’s just the airline that’s stonewalling me. I actually broke down in tears yesterday because NWA is making this as absolutely miserable as possible. I wonder how many people will have to go through this before someone makes a big enough stink for them to change their policy?

  5. Northwest steals kids toys

    Just went through this with NWA. Daughter left Nintendo DS in the seat back pocket, but didn’t realize until 45 minutes later. We spent 12 hours trying to get a someone on the phone who can help us. We get forwarded to full voice mail boxes, told to call two different airports, get hung up on, told someone else (likely an NWA employee) surely took it and that finding lost items doesn’t make NWA any money so they don’t care. Had to go back to the airport the next day to get anyone to talk to us and file a report. Had we gotten a real person right away, we at least had a chance to get the DS back. Now it’s long gone. I understand my daughter should not have left it on the plane, but that still doesn’t give NWA the right to treat people like dirt.

    • Jed

      I’m sorry to hear about y’all’s bad experiences with Northwest.

      I just noticed that I never posted a followup comment here. Six weeks after I lost my waistpack, Northwest found and returned it to me. Follow that link for more info, including a link to a PDF document containing Northwest Airlines luggage-desk phone numbers. Some or all of those numbers may be out of date, but they’re worth a try.

      Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of items (especially electronics) that disappear or get left behind do get immediately stolen. I’m guessing that’s true for most airlines, not just NWA. But NWA does seem to be particularly obnoxious (and secretive) in their attempts to avoid responding to customers who lose things.

    • Cindy

      Wow… my son’s Nintendo DS was lost too on Dec 2, on our NW flight from Detroit to Portland ME (connecting from originally Orlando)- a few very turbulent moments most likely caused the little game to go flying under all the seats. I’m sure these employees are tired of all these complaints and losses, but guess what, they still get paid anyway. And maybe they’d realize just being “nice” to someone looking for help could bring a smile to their face. Jerks.
      Somehow I think there are some NW employees making some good $ selling items lost on airlines on ebay.


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