W(h)ining about Southwest Airlines

and the lost bottles of wine

I don't usually use my blog to bitch and moan about things - but sometimes dealing with the airlines can be so incredibly frustrating - especially when they lose something due to complete stupidity. So, I will w(h)ine a bit.

Last weekend we spent a few days visiting my sister (and client) in Benicia, CA. It's usually easier to fly into Sacramento, and drive the hour to Benicia, than it is to deal with San Francisco International and the drive to my sister's town or take the BART trip to a nearby station. When we do so, we usually book our trip on Southwest Airlines - and most of our experiences have been quite pleasant.

Part of the reason we were visting my sister was to finally take possession of four bottles of wine purchased on a trip to Napa when last visiting her in April of 2005. She'd been holding the wine "hostage" until we returned to get it in person. Two of the bottles were incredible whites (for me) from an wonderful private tasting party (arranged by our friend Greg from Atlanta) at the Clos Du Val winery, another was a red from Clos Du Val, and the final bottle was from the small boutique HaGafen Cellars.

Due to the new TSA restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage, we came prepared to check the bottles of wine in our luggage - which we have done in the past with no issues - for the return trip. We packed an extra piece of luggage within another bag - a sturdy new bag bearing the logo of Holland+Knight law firm where my partner Ed is employed - and also packed to strong corrugated wine shipping containers we had used to bring bottles of wine back from a past trip to Italy.

We had a great visit with my sister and her new fiancé. Actually, last Saturday night the two bottles of red wine were consumed during an amazing dinner prepared by Ed. My sister supplemented our wine shipment with another bottle of red wine for Ed and a special gift for me - a limited edition commemorative bottle of wine with the logo I had designed for the Benicia Historical Museum etched in the glass. The thing was beautiful.

On Sunday afternoon, with all our luggage packed, we drove off to the Sacramento Airport for our flight back to Portland. When reaching the Southwest ticket counter the very nice agent asked if we had any wine in our luggage. We told her that we did and she asked to see how it was packaged. She took one look at the packaging and told us that Southwest did not allow for any wine to be shipped in checked luggage unless it was packaged in Styrofoam shipping containers and we needed to remove the wine from our bags. Of course, there was no facility at the airport (about an hour and a half away from Napa) to purchase such shipping materials or prepare a package for shipping in another manner. The ticket agent suggested that we put all the wine in the Holland+Knight bag, label it appropriately and have it left in the Southwest supervisor's office to be picked up by someone later. We phoned my sister and she agreed to drive the one hour to the airport on the following Saturday, or before, to pick up the wine and again hold it "hostage." Ed put one of his business cards into the piece of luggage and attached a label to the bag with my sister's name, her fiancé's name and my sister's cell phone number. We told the helpful ticket agent what was going on and she wrote on the label "will pickup on 10/07/06 or before." With the travel "speed bump" handled we headed for the security and our evening flight home to Portland.

Yesterday we had an email that my sister was heading to Sacramento to pick up the bag and our wine. Later we got a voice mail message to call her because when she got to the airport no one could find the bag in question at all. Ed called her and was told that the people at the Southwest counter "thought" that, due to the fact the bag had been unclaimed for five days, it had probably been sent to the airline's unclaimed baggage facility in Texas - even though a pickup date of 10/07 was marked on the bag's label. Excuse me, wouldn't that involve putting a bag of items that we were told could not be checked into the luggage hold of a plane? The airline made no attempt to call my sister - whose number was also clearly on the luggage tag. There was certainly no attempt to check inside the bag and find Ed's business card to call him at his office.

Instead, we now have a phone number for a facility in Texas and the search will begin for our bag o' wine. I've got to admit, with the recently released figures on lost luggage, I'm not too hopeful.

I'm probably pissed off about the loss of the bottle with my etched logo design more than anything else. To avoid such situations I have two scenarios of advice for fellow travelers:

1.) Just blatantly lie to the ticket agent if you are asked about wine in your luggage; or

2.) Use your car keys to poke the cork into the bottle (you certainly should not be carrying a corkscrew with you!), sit down on the floor of the airport lobby and drink the wine from the bottle. Perhaps you will be a bit more prepared to deal with the airlines, security, the crowded airports and your upcoming flight.

I'll keep you posted about the saga of the lost wine...

(Note: Here's the update on the wandering wine.)

©2006 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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