Tuesday, July 31, 2007

British Airways and Sucking Eggs

Britain has an extra rule when flying from or through one of their airports. You can only carry one bag on an airplane. No matter that all of the airlines allow two, they'll only let you through security with one. Of course, the airline size and weight restrictions still apply to that one bag you're allowed to carry, so in preparation for our flights to South Africa, I had to make a choice: carry on the laptop and misc electronics, or carry on the camera gear (Canon 20D, Canon 5D and a number of heavy lenses. I figured it would be safest to pack the camera gear in their nicely padded bags, and then pack those bags in a nicely nondescript black roller suitcase. And pray.

We made it safely through London and to Johannesburg this way, even though our flight to Joburg was a couple of hours late so we had to pay for changing our next flight. British Airways said they wouldn't help us ("Go suck eggs" sounds more polite with a British accent). Fortunately, I could carry the camera gear on to and from the short flight to Richard's Bay so all of our gear made it to South Africa.

The joy ends there.

On our return flight to London, I still carried my camera equipment on to the flight back to Joburg and then with us throughout the day visiting the Hills at their stunning home outside of town. When we returned to the airport that evening, we checked all of our baggage with British Airways for our non-stop flight to London. As we arrived in London, all of our bags showed up and looked just fine so we headed, exhausted, to our hotel and checked in. After lunch I went to get my camera gear ready for shooting in London and discovered that my bag had clearly been open because they were not as I left them and my 100-400 lens was not in it's camera bag. "Oh no!" I thought, they could have hurt the lens when they inspected it!

Then I realized it was worse.

Someone had opened my suitcase - this nondescript black roller suitcase that looks like 60% of the other suitcases in the world, and taken my 5D body, 20D body and my 17-40 lens. They left the other lenses in their bags, or at least in the suitcase (why -- I don't know but I'm glad they did).


I tried to contact British Airways but could find nothing in their website about how to contact them, other than to fill out the lost luggage form (which wouldn't let me proceed unless I told them I lived in the UK or Ireland - so I did, though I don't). Then I called my insurance company and emailed them with the list of equipment that was stolen.

This morning I got the response from British Airways:

I am extremely sorry to learn about your missing camera and equipment.

We go to great lengths to take care of our customers' belongings at British Airways, but of course all the checked-in luggage has to pass through various hands on its way to and from the aircraft. So on the rare occasions when belongings go missing, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened. We always advise people to keep anything of special value on board with them during the flight, because of this - and because airlines have only limited liability for any items that do go missing.

Everyone is welcome to bring one piece of luggage into the cabin of a British Airways flight with them. We find this allowance usually caters for any valuable, fragile and electronic items, so I regret that we cannot offer compensation for your missing camera and equipment. If you had travel insurance, though, you may be covered through that. I do hope so.

In other words: Go suck eggs.

I am actually stunned that they have no accountability in situations like this. If people in the secured part of airports can steal cameras from baggage, they can plant any number of dangerous things into luggage as well. Apparently, they don't care.

Rather then spend the week with no camera in England, I went and bought the cheapest camera I could find that works with my lenses -- a Canon 400D. It will do for the week, but when we get home, I'm going to need to figure out what we can do next.

In the meantime, I've learned a few things:
1) Always carry the camera gear AND the computer stuff on the plane.
2) Don't fly through England anymore. Their restrictions make it unsafe to travel with valuable equipment
3) Don't fly British Airways ever again. They have zero accountability.
4) Thank goodness for stupid people. The theives left my lenses which were probably more valuable than the camera bodies they took and the one lens they did take was the least useful one in the bag.


Anonymous said...

That really sucks, but is very common. I've been lucky so far. I always carry laptops, hard drives and the like with me. Many friends have lost hard drives, jewelry and even cameras!! Add to your list United, Southwest and Spirit.

Hope the rest of your trip goes well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, specifically on (2) and (3). Unfortunately, BA is one of the few airlines that fly direct from Seattle to Europe. Air France just started their direct flights from Seattle - Paris, which is good news.

Anonymous said...

When we arrived to Paris from US, we found out our luggage was sent back to US.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read your post - I got exactly the same response from BA (pretty much word for word) when my mobile phone was stolen from my checked in luggage coming from San Francisco back to London Heathrow. It was battered and out of charge so I didn't think it was a risk, but the sim card was used to make a £190 phone call to the Philippines whilst I was on the flight blissfully unaware! It seems that checked in luggage is neither covered by insurance nor by the airline....and of course the mobile phone provider also won't compensate.