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Bridget Foley’s Diary: We All Have Our Baggage (Except When It’s Lost)

Losing luggage on a trip from New York to Paris can be a very unpleasant, and costly, experience.

I was almost a one-percenter.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Not that one percent. Rather, a less envied general population subset comprised of people whose luggage, when lost by an airline, is lost forever.

While there is no good moment to have one’s luggage lost, the circumstances of my situation were particularly problematic — en route to the Paris couture.

Background on the contents of the lost bag: I am extremely disorganized and tend to over-pack. Couture falls during sale season in New York. Thus, on June 28, the day prior to my departure, I engaged in a considerable wardrobe refresh at Barneys and Bergdorf’s. My bag contained multiple tags-still-in-place merch from Lanvin, Jil Sander and Marc Jacobs, along with a few additional current-season pieces and virtually every other warm-weather designer item I have that fits. And three clutches, one each from Dior, Jil Sander and Michael Kors. Happily, I’d sent my shoes via courier.

I checked two bags at JFK, one big, one little. My traveling companion, Ed Nardoza, and I then inquired about the lounge location in this unfamiliar terminal and were offered two options: outside security or in another terminal, a bus ride away. We passed.

Carousel-side in Paris, only my small bag showed up. At the Air France baggage complaint center, the woman I spoke with couldn’t have been lovelier. After the requisite info-taking and fruitless computer check, she told me: a) Almost all wayward baggage finds its owner in a day or two; b) Although Delta’s literature says the airline pays little for emergency expenses, if you’re staying at a nice hotel, insist you packed expensive things and put up a stink, you can do far better than the paltry norm, and c) Her husband does production work in fashion.

I then settled into (best driver in Paris) Gerard’s car for the drive into the city, dropped Ed at the Meurice and proceeded to the George V, where my room wasn’t ready. So on to the splendid tea salon where a little bug crept out of my salad. Not a repulsive, filthy NYC bug, but a tiny, he-frolicked-in-the-French-countryside-lettuce-fields bug. Yet a bug nonetheless.

I had little more than a two-hour window to procure clothes to wear throughout the couture. Once in my room, I freshened up to the extent that I could, cancelled my Donatella preview last-minute, and hastened to two usually successful outposts, Dries and Lanvin. By the time 7 p.m. signaled the close of Saturday shopping, I’d spent a healthy four figures I’d had no intention of spending after my New York spree. I had no choice, given the unlikely possibility of my bag not showing up.

Did I say unlikely? Sunday came and went, no bag. My inquiries to the Air France number were often infuriating. On endless hold; cut off numerous times. That afternoon, a frustrating conversation with a polite person: “There’s no word, Madame, no sighting of your bag. Maybe now we should call JFK.” More than 24 hours later, and no one had called JFK. Later that evening, a similar chat. “I’m sorry for your inconvenience.” “Sir, this is not an inconvenience. Dinner with a friend who’s 20 minutes late is an inconvenience. This is an expensive nightmare. Please request on my file that no one use the word inconvenience again.”

“Oui, Madame.”

As for trying to call Delta at the home office in Atlanta on the weekend — please.

Monday came and went, no bag. Only twice-daily updates from the fabulous concierge staffers at the fabulous George V, informing me that their repeated inquiries were coming up empty. I was living for 9 a.m. EST, when I could get Alan at Condé Nast travel on the case. Alan was told that no record of my bag existed, original computer baggage check and subsequent lost bag case file number apparently notwithstanding. “Maybe,” the person suggested, “she tried to carry the bag on and it was too big so they did a gate-check in and she got one of those pink, noncomputerized checks.” Or maybe there was an alien bag abduction, but improbable.

On Tuesday, July 3, I returned to my room at 10 p.m. or so to find a message from the concierge that the bag had been found and would be returned at some point that night or the next day. By Wednesday night, still no bag. Meanwhile, Delta continued to insist to Alan that the bag didn’t exist.

I’m shocked at the lack of communication between Delta and Air France. (Apparently, computer input strategies are not a priority at Air France.) More shocking was a comment to Alan on Friday, when I was back in New York, sans bag. With Delta still disavowing knowledge of the bag’s existence, Air France still maintaining it had been located on July 2 (why it wasn’t sent to the hotel as promised remains a mystery), and neither indicating any interest in reconciling their stories, Alan called Air France in Paris. “We’re changing terminals,” he was told. “We lose hundreds of bags a week.”

Nice. Hundreds of bags untended in far-off corners of Charles de Gaulle. Some were checked in by Delta, which has no record of such. I prefer not to think of how dramatically the security issue trumps the inherent woes of an AWOL wardrobe.

The overarching woe: replacement value. I’d take it to the Supreme Court before I’d accept whatever paltry sum I assumed Delta would offer. So on a hot, sticky Sunday I headed to Barneys and then across that hideous Bermuda shorts bazaar that is Fifth Avenue in the summer to Bergdorf’s in search not only of the replacement receipts from my most recent shopping excursion (I’d managed to misplace the originals) but for all receipts for the last three years. Christian at Barneys went back to January in a heartbeat, and sent me to customer service for prior years. On the phone from New Jersey, Linda told me she’d discuss it with her manager first thing on Monday. At Bergdorf’s, Mya in customer service promised to have three years of receipts ready by end of day. Both ladies delivered. Delta and Air France could take a lesson.

On Monday, I worked from home, the better to prepare my lost merch claim with few interruptions. The Delta claim form asks for the exact purchase date and price of the lost suitcase, and whether the claimant purchased additional lost bag insurance at the check-in counter. The former question is ridiculous; the latter implicitly blames the traveler for the incurred loss.

As I sat on my bed surrounded by receipts, my assistant called to say that a guy outside my building was about to deliver my bag. Never mind that on Friday, Air France had promised to supply a flight number and delivery date. (Delta still claimed no knowledge of the bag.) Never mind that they had my home phone number.

On the upside, the bag came back. On the downside, it cost me four figures. Delta, you haven’t heard the last from me.