(CNN) – Most people know the fear of not showing up in their bag after a flight. Some of us, due to the increasingly chaotic weather this year, know what a hit that no show is. And more and more travelers are experiencing what it’s like to lose a bag and get it back, not because of the diligence of the airlines, but because they knew its location thanks to the tracking device they kept in the bag with their clothes.
Valerie Szibala is the latest traveler to share her story with us. The Washington disinformation investigator received his lost luggage nearly six days later, during which time she tracked it down as she toured local malls and McDonald’s, even though the airline had told her the bag was safe at its distribution center.
In fact, it looked like he was at someone’s house, in an apartment complex, where, according to Zibala, he found other empty and discarded suitcases lying next to the trash can.
The story of your bag being lost and found, and how United Airlines handled your case, is enough to never carry it again.
Szybala made her first international trip in several years—a month abroad—and returned to Washington City’s Reagan Airport on December 28. He bought an Airtag, an Apple tracking device, especially for the trip.
“I’ve heard of it,” he explains, referring to the 2022 travel fad of leaving trackers in bags to find in case they get lost. “I had a layover scheduled, so I knew the chance of a bag being lost was high.”
What he didn’t count on was the “crazy weather” and “implosion” of Southwest Airlines. Although he was flying with United, his stop was in the southwest hub. So she wasn’t surprised when, upon arrival in Washington, the United app informed her that her bag had not arrived. It’s not like he saw anyone talking to him either: “The airport was crazy,” he says.
Instead, Szybala relied on the app, which told her the airline knew where her bag was and would return it the next day.
In fact, the suitcase arrived in Washington the next day, December 29th. But he didn’t get it back until January 2.
He accepted United’s offer to deliver the bag directly to his home, rather than return to the airport to collect it in person. “This is where I made a huge mistake, by letting them hand it over to a third party,” he says.
False guarantees and waiting times
December 29 passed and Szibala did not retrieve his bag. Then came January 30, 31 and 1, and still hadn’t received it.
“I tried to call them every day, but the wait time on the phone was amazing, I never got it, and with chat through the app, the wait time was two to four hours,” he says.
“But I did it every day and they assured me the bag was on its way, it’s in our system, it’s safe at our service center, and it will be delivered tonight. But it was never true.”
In fact, Szybala already knew something was wrong, because she could see exactly where the bag was, thanks to the Airtag.
“He ended up on Friday the 30th at 8 pm in an apartment complex two kilometers away from me,” he says.
At first he assumed it would be delivered the next day, but instead, he said, “I watched it go to McDonald’s.”
—Valerie Szybala. (vszyb) January 2, 2023
and then? “Twice to a nearby suburban mall.”
Until Tuesday, the day he got the bag back, he saw her visiting a shopping mall.
“Every time I went back to the apartment complex,” he says.
United representatives kept telling him the bag was in their distribution center, despite his evidence to the contrary. One of them even told him to “calm down,” according to a screenshot of a conversation he posted on Twitter.
—Valerie Szybala. (vszyb) January 2, 2023
Bags next to the trash can
So Szybala decides to go to the apartment complex where his Airtag is. On his first run, on Friday night, he didn’t find his suitcase, but did find two more with luggage tags on them, open and empty next to the dumpsters. One of them still contains the owner’s data. Szybala emailed them to ask if her bag was missing, but has yet to hear back.
“When I found the empty bags next to the containers, I got worried,” he says. “And United were lying to me, so I went to Twitter.” His January 1 photo of bags next to containers has been viewed more than 21 million times. She also called the police when she found the bags in the trash, but said they “couldn’t help much” because she couldn’t say exactly which apartment they were in.
I just want everyone to know that @United He has traced my bag and is lying about it. My Apple AirTag shows it has been sitting in my apartment complex for over a day. Outside by the dumpsters, I find other United Airlines bags empty. pic.twitter.com/fcoq4nj3zb
—Valerie Szybala. (vszyb) January 1, 2023
Although Szybala says United on Twitter suggested she file a claim for a refund, she only wanted the bag back. So he kept tweeting, kept logging the location of the bag when he “visited” places like the European Wax Center and McDonald’s, and kept visiting that apartment complex when he got “home.” On her fourth visit, which was already viral, she was accompanied by a local TV team…and everything changed.
“We went for a spin around the garage again, this time with a local who had seen my Twitter feed,” he told CNN.
The other bags [junto a los contenedores] They are gone. The resident who came to help said he saw someone take them inside.”
“We were looking through boxes trying to find them [mi maleta]. When I went out, I received a message from the courier saying that I had my bag and it was just around the corner. He met me in front of the building and took my bag with him.”
He said the bag, which still had his baggage tag and additional identification, was still sealed, and the contents appeared intact.
Szybala said the courier, who was in a car without a license plate, not an official truck, and was not wearing any uniforms, told her that her bag had been mistakenly delivered to the Virginia suburbs, then picked up again and dropped off. the housing complex in question.
Why has this been a wild ride for all of you. I am happy to report that I got my bag back!!! I will provide more details and lessons learned later. For now, I want to say thank you for all the support, and shout out to the residents in the building and the local news crews who came to help =) pic.twitter.com/hCDXMreiDC
—Valerie Szybala. (vszyb) January 2, 2023
“But I saw my bag set up in this apartment complex and I’ve been running errands since Friday,” he said. “My bag is still locked…it must have been in a car. But I was so excited to pick up my bag to ask if she had it all weekend.”
Szybala retrieved her bag just an hour before speaking to CNN, and hasn’t gone through the entire contents, but said “everything seems to be in order.”
“The service provided by our baggage delivery service provider does not meet our standards and we are investigating what happened to cause this service to fail,” United Airlines told CNN in a statement. They did not address the behavior of their staff, who repeatedly told Szybala that the briefcase was at United’s fulfillment center when it was in fact just hanging around the Washington suburbs.
For Zibala, the story is far from over. “I think United have to respond to these practices,” he told CNN. “Is it usual for people to take passenger bags home? I think they owe me an explanation. I don’t think they would have given it back to me if I didn’t have the Airtag, if I hadn’t posted a viral tweet or gotten media attention.”
His advice to travelers? “The tracker is very useful if you have some kind of connection. Take a picture of the contents: I wish I had a list of things I had in my suitcase. And if they say they’ll give it to you, no accept: say you’ll go pick it up, even though the airport is two hours away.”
Szybala isn’t the only one using a tracking device to counter airlines that have lost passengers’ bags. In April, Elliot Charrod prepared a Powerpoint presentation for Aer Lingus after the airline lost a suitcase belonging to Charrod and his new wife, after they returned from their wedding in South Africa.
Of course, Apple isn’t the only company making baggage trackers, although CNN sister site Underscored last year called Airtags “the perfect travel companion.”
They also recommended Chipolo and Tile trackers.
Airtags are not without controversy. In December, two women filed A lawsuit against Apple in which they assert that their former partners used the tiny tracking devices to stalk them.