Business

Missing baggage adds to chaos at Canadian airports

As airlines and the federal government race to address long lines and delays at airports, some travellers are pointing out another major problem — missing luggage.

Ottawa says it's working with airlines and airports to resolve the problem

Travellers move through Toronto’s Pearson airport on Thursday. Amid the other problems hitting Canadian airports, more travellers are now complaining about missing baggage, which sometimes fails to arrive during their trip. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Sara Formel's family vacation last week to Scotland for a friend's wedding was supposed to be one of those trips of a lifetime. But instead, she said, it turned into "a trip from hell."

That's because the family's luggage — including wedding attire and a car seat for Formel's nine-month-old — didn't make it on their June 18 Air Canada flight from Toronto to Edinburgh.

The family spent much of their week-long vacation shopping for necessities and trying to get answers from Air Canada. 

"It's been horrible," said Formel, who lives in Conway, Ark. "We were stripped of everything that we had, and I don't know when we'll get it back."

Due to a surge in demand and staffing shortages, some major Canadian airports have recently been plagued with long lineups, delays and flight cancellations.

On top of that, travellers are complaining about another major problem: missing baggage, which sometimes fails to arrive during their trip. 

A man and woman hold an infant.
Sara Formel, her husband Joe and nine-month-old child had to scramble to buy necessities in Scotland after their luggage failed to arrive. (Submitted by Sara Formel)

"It's frustrating," said WestJet passenger Joni Hirtle of Calgary. She was reunited with her luggage on Saturday — a week after her nine-day trip to Costa Rica. 

Hirtle's suitcase disappeared after she boarded the second leg of her flight from Toronto. Its contents included $400 hiking boots and a wad of cash totalling about $400 hidden in a sock.

During a stopover in Toronto on the way home, Hirtle inquired about her luggage at WestJet's baggage claim counter.

"There were tons of bags sitting there," she said. "They don't have enough resources to be addressing these issues."

When Air Canada passenger Harrison Burton landed in Montreal on Friday, en route to Moncton, he was so overwhelmed by the piles of unclaimed luggage, he posted a video on Facebook.

"It's chaos," he says in the video. "It's insane. They need to fix this."

Travellers are seen amid unclaimed luggage at an airport.
After landing in Montreal, Harrison Burton took this photo showing piles of unclaimed baggage at the airport. (Submitted by Harrison Burton)

Burton didn't find his luggage in Montreal, and hoped it would appear when he landed in Moncton, where he lives. However, three days later, it still hadn't arrived. 

"It [feels] like the face of capitalism basically saying, 'You know what, we don't actually care about people. We just want your money and you'll get your luggage when you get your luggage,'" said Burton in an interview on Monday. 

What's being done?

The federal government has hired more border officers and security staff at airports to help ease the bottlenecks at airports. However, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has pointed some blame at the airlines, saying last week they must also "do their part."

Air Canada says most passengers arrive at their destination with their luggage, but acknowledges that the number who don't has recently increased. 

The airline says many of the reasons behind baggage delays — such as airport backlogs — are outside its control.

"When an aircraft is held at a gate because of a customs backlog inside the terminal, it may not be loaded on time for its next flight," said spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email. 

"Be assured that avoiding baggage delays is a top priority for us."

WestJet blamed missing baggage on myriad challenges including resource constraints, flight delays and cancellations. 

The airline is "actively working to resolve" baggage delays, said spokesperson Madison Kruger in an email. 

Carleton University business associate professor Ian Lee said all parties involved — airlines, airports and the government — are to blame for the current chaos, because they failed to properly prepare for the anticipated post-pandemic surge in travel.

"They should have had a contingency plan ... you know, 'How are we going to deal with the training, retraining, hiring of new people?'" he said. "It just seems to me, it's been a lot of — no pun intended — flying by the seat of their pants."

WATCH | Travellers complain of lost baggage:

Luggage delays add to Canadian travel woes

1 month ago
Duration 1:54
Luggage delays are adding to the problems Canadian air travellers face, with some airports seeing mounds of bags piled up and some travellers not getting their luggage during an entire trip.

Alghabra said on Monday the bottlenecks at major airports have improved and that Ottawa is working with airports and airlines to tackle baggage delays and other lingering problems. 

"We're treating this with the greatest sense of urgency," he said at a news conference. 

On Tuesday morning, Burton finally got his luggage. Formel is still waiting for hers. 

There is one consolation for travellers with missing bags: under Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations, travellers with lost, damaged or delayed luggage can file a claim for expenses incurred for up to approximately $2,300.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won at Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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