A few weeks ago I posted on a number of the sailing groups I follow an urgent plea for help in the Chicago area. At the time we were fairly vague about our request, but now can tell the whole story...
My husband and I are currently in New Zealand on our sail around the world. Our daughter and best friend were coming to see us over Christmas from Canada. Our trusty Honda eu2000 generator had given up after 10 years of faithful service, so we asked her to bring us a new one. She found one (110 volt) in Canada. New Zealand is 220v so cannot get one here.
We checked the TSA web page and the United Airlines website and they both claimed that so long as the gas powered item was new and certified that it had no fuel inside it could go as checked baggage.
This is what United Airlines page says:
Gasoline-powered tools and equipment
Gasoline-powered tools and equipment, such as chainsaws and gas-powered weed cutters, are not allowed in baggage unless they are brand-new, the fuel source is removed or the fuel has been purged. If the fuel has been purged, the equipment must be accompanied by a letter from the company that purged the fuel.
We followed all these rules.
The girls were flying United Airlines from Toronto to Auckland, stopping in Chicago and San Francisco.
At the Toronto airport the bag was checked by TSA and the airline while our friend waited with our girls in case they said no. They cleared it for flight and it was put on the plane with them.
At their stopover in Chicago they were called to the front of the plane and told that TSA had removed it from the plane and gave her a number to call.
When they arrived in San Francisco there was another plane at their planes gate. So they had to sit on the tarmac on the plane for over 45 minutes, during which time their plane to Auckland left without them. They got emails while waiting to get off the plane that their flight had left and they were rescheduled to fly 24 hrs later but had to select their seats. The system showed no available seats in economy and made them select economy plus at a cost of $230 usd each...a lot of money for a couple university students. Also because of the day change of flying over the date line to come to New Zealand they now missed Christmas, December 25 disappeared while they were in the air.
They were told by the attendants on the plane to go to customer service in the airport when they were let off the plane. They went and waited in a line for more than 2 hours. When they finally got to the front of the line they were told no help could be given to them because they missed their flight "due to weather" but that was a lie. The weather was fine in San Francisco and they were there in time. It was only missed because they could not go to the gate. So basically United told them they had to sleep on the floor and pay for their own food on Christmas Eve and miss Christmas Day.
Also at this point they asked about the generator and were told that Chicago had not pulled it off, that they had no authority to do that and it was with the rest of their baggage and would be landing in Auckland with them. They were skeptical but were assured 3 different times that it was with their luggage now in San Francisco.
By now it was almost 130 am, they were tired and afraid. Me as the mom got on Skype from NZ and found a hotel near the airport that sent a shuttle for them. $180usd.
The next day they returned to the airport and flew out at 1045 pm to Auckland. Landing in Auckland at baggage, no box. It was still in Chicago. They had been blatantly lied to their faces on this issue.
It took some doing but we tracked it down and had the wonderful help of an angel in united baggage Ohare, Angelique Byrd. She told us that TSA Chicago would not except Toronto's word and X-ray that the generator was clean so we had to get certified again that their would be no oil or gas in it...basically it is just a piece of metal now. Big problem, we are in New Zealand and we know no one in Chicago. I went on my Facebook group "Women Who Sail" and asked if anyone lived near Ohare. Another angel, Susan Joyce answered, she lived 25 miles from the airport. Taking us strangers at face value she drove to the airport picked up the box, brought it miles away to a Honda dealer who certified that the generator had no oil or gas in it, repackaged it, for another $88 usd. Susan then went back to pick it up and brought it back to the airport twice. The first time the man in baggage said it could not be put on a plane without a person going on the plane with it. Which is crazy because they fly lost and misplaced bags without their owners all time.
We called our angel Angelique and Susan went to the airport again a third time the next day to see her. Angelique took the box personally for us to TSA, they approved it for flight. It was sent that night, Jan 1 from Chicago and supposed to be put on the plane in San Francisco to arrive in Auckland at 855 am on Jan 3. Never happened. Called baggage 800 number and told it would be on the next available flight, arriving Jan 4. Never happened. On January 5 we were told they did not know where it was. Same on the morning of Jan 6. Then at 345 pm Jan 6 someone scanned the box in the San Francisco airport. We now knew it was still there. More international phone calls ensued. We were told point blank the box would be on the next available flight landing in Auckland at 855 am the next morning. Since we are physically 2 hrs and 30 minute drive to the airport we again rented a hotel room to wait for the next day. Guess what ? Of course, still no box. With no clean clothes we reluctantly drove 2.5 hrs back to the boat to try to deal with it again. As we were assured by both telephone contact in the USA and personally in Auckland that they would deliver it to us when it showed up.
More international phones calls, more waiting 40 minutes or more for customer service to answer our call in sequence for the tenth time or twentieth, losing count now.
In the mean time the girls flew home on Jan 6. My daughter wrote a respectable letter of complaint about the extortion for the $230 each seats upgrade that they did not need or want, they are 20 and cannot even legally drink on the plane and are barely 5 ft tall so do not need extra leg room. Thankfully United did refund that money, finally.
The lady we had been dealing with in Auckland, Diedre, finally called us at 8 pm on January 8 to say the box was physically at her airport. She saw it and touched it. She labeled it with our contact information. We were told that the next morning someone would call to arrange getting the box to us. No worries they do it all the time. right ?
January 9. By 1 pm no one had called so I called again, only 20 minutes on hold this time. Only to be told that a different person would call me back in 30 minutes and tell me which flight my box would be on from Auckland to Whangarei. When the next gentlemen called back I was told they would not fly the box unless we paid because it was coming from an international flight and would have to switch to domestic. They would not do this. I asked if they could ground transport it to me and was told that would cost them too much money that I needed to get someone to drive it to me ! If I wanted it someone would have to come get it. So I write this as my husband drives the 2.5 hr each way trip to the airport to pick it up. Our third 5 hour round trip, plus hotels to wait for something that never came. Fuel here is currently $2.03 per liter, about $8 a gallon ! And did I mention that it is more than $20 every time we have to park at the Auckland airport. And we reimbursed Susan $100 for her parking at Chicago as well.
So we spent approximately $800 for gas,parking,recertification, hotels, international phone calls etc ... AND United Airlines could not deliver to its final destination because they said "it would cost them too much money" !
This morning my husband filled it with gas and oil and it started on the third pull... I guess a happy end to a horrific ordeal.
It was only through the amazing kindness, generosity and tenacity of Angelique in the baggage department at O'Hare, Susan, our new best friend in Chicago, and Diedre (who actually works for the baggage department at Air New Zealand) that we ever saw our small Honda Generator. Shame on United Airlines and the TSA for making what should have been a simple thing turn into a NIGHTMARE! #unitedairlines
|The tag when we picked it up.....|
|The Tag when it left Chicago....|