How To Make Lemonade 101

So the main thing people wrote on my facebook page this week was “what did you lose in those bags? Not the five ten canopy!!”
Sigh. Yes, the Five Ten canopy. The beautiful, red, only-one-in-the-entire-world Five Ten canopy was in those bags.

The one that Fletchmama used to lie on while I was packing it.
Hold on, I need to go blow my nose.
Okay. So anyway. Yes, the Five Ten canopy was in there.

And the bags are still not found whatsoever, over two weeks later.
However! Things are looking up πŸ™‚

As you know, Mario and I gave our bags to United on our way home from Zurich on October 20, and then two of them promptly disappeared into thin air. The ones with ALL the base gear in them. Naturally. And then they never turned up. Then I spent over a week calling the 800 number and getting told nothing, which obviously made me SUPER WORRIED.

What happened next was funny. Being super worried, I had nothing to say on Facebook and Twitter except how worried I was. I didn’t expect the huge wave of support I got from my friends and tweeps. People sent me links, stories of experiences they’d had with airlines and lost bags, lots of videos and news stories about Dave Carroll’s guitar, words of solidarity, hilarious photos and songs satirizing the situation, news stories about my gear (!), and pages and pages of Twitter posts vowing to boycott United until they gave my base gear back. And people started getting very annoyed that the “official twitterer” for @unitedairlines would never reply to anyone about any of it, ever, though eventually they were tagged on every single tweet about the situation.

See, airlines losing people’s stuff and then basically saying “oh sorry about that, ok, seeya later, thanks for paying that new extra bag surcharge!” apparently happens all the time and people really do not like it. At all.

RT @DHendy Count me in. RT @BryanKuhn +1 over here RT @basecamper: I pledge not to fly #unitedairlines until @highsteph gets her gear back.
11:30 AM Oct 29th from web

Meanwhile, I had been moved to the next step in the United system, where I had to fill out a lost claim form, itemizing everything that was missing, with receipts to show replacement cost. Since base gear is outrageously expensive, and since almost all my stuff was bought in the last two years, I had all that. When I finished filling out the form, the total amount of what was missing for both my gear and Mario’s was $12,418.28. Gulp.

This is when I started to think seriously about what would happen if the gear really was lost forever. Not only would it cost $12,418.28 to replace, but since base gear is custom produced, it can take up to 4 to 6 months to actually get new gear. Not very good. So I started asking the Baggage people on the phone if I could actually talk to someone about this claim form I’d faxed in, and they told me there aren’t any phones at the head baggage claim office.

Wait. What? So at the main United Airlines Baggage Tracing Center, no one in the whole building has a PHONE? I found this impossible to believe. The representative finally confessed that they just didn’t know the numbers because the main tracing center won’t give the numbers to them.

Somehow, I sincerely doubted that. So we discussed it for a while πŸ˜‰

I checked one of the links my friends had sent, to an online complaint form from the Department of Transportation. Since I had nothing else to do (not being able to base jump and pack parachutes all day long in beautiful Moab in PERFECT NO WIND AUTUMN CONDITIONS) except for call the United 800 number all day long, I filled out the complaint form, explaining the whole story and how I felt very annoyed that I couldn’t actually talk to someone about my missing claim form and sure wished I could.

Much to my surprise, the next day, I got an email directly from someone at that mysterious United Baggage Tracing Center (I guess they have internet though they don’t have any phones), attached to the complaint form I’d emailed to the D of T, and telling me my bags were on “priority trace” and to please wait some more.

An actual person! With an email address, whom I could email all day every day until my bags were found again! This, I liked.

I thanked her very much for writing me, and immediately explained to her, by email, the issues at hand. How you can’t jump off cliffs with no parachutes, how they’d been missing for almost two weeks, how our lost gear cost ridiculous amounts of money to replace ($12,418.28 to be precise), how it takes 2 to 4 months to actually get new ones, and how we really wanted them back right now. And how it seemed pretty clear to me no one ever put those bags on the plane in Zurich, so couldn’t someone just go look around in the Zurich airport?

She told me they were looking very hard and to please wait.

So then I explained it all to her again.

And then she told me that United could offer us $3174.20. Which is not quite $12418.28. Which made me get very very worried. And at which point everyone on Twitter got very upset.

united offers $3174.20 for my lost gear. actual cost: $12418.28. i pay $9244.08 for their incompetence? @unitedairlines #fail
12:25 PM Oct 29th from web

this one got retweeted a LOT.

But one thing I have learned is that when things get upsetting, it’s good to take a deep breath, and realize that maybe you just haven’t explained yourself well enough. I tend to forget there are a lot of people in this world who don’t even know what base jumping is or how one does it, and if they did know, can’t fathom why anyone would do it to begin with. So you can’t assume anything when it comes to communication.

So I took a deep breath and sent another email, explaining again how you can’t jump off cliffs with no parachutes, how they’d been missing for over two weeks, how our gear cost ridiculous amounts of money to replace ($12,418.28 to be precise), how it takes 2 to 4 months to actually get new ones, and how we really wanted them back right now. And then I also explained that we were feeling very very worried, that people were putting up funny pictures on twitter about the whole thing (which were so funny I attached them because I figured she would like them), and that ultimately I just wanted to know if United was planning to actually pay us the whole amount of our lost gear if it was never found, because not feeling sure about that was making us really worried.

Then I promptly got an email back that yes, United did intend to replace my gear fully if it was not recovered.

Just got written promise: @unitedairlines to fully replace all my gear if it’s lost more than 30 days! good first step. #loveyouall
11:37 AM Oct 30th from web

Although I didn’t email my new United contact any of the news stories specifically about my missing gear (because I was afraid that might be rude), I did send along a link to a Swiss news interview I did about jumping the Eiger, pointing out that all the pictures showed all our missing stuff! And we sure wish we had it back so we could do more cool stuff like that! Then I got another email asking if I did want her to send along the $3000 now as an initial payment to get things going on the base gear in case the bags never do turn up.

I sent another email explaining again (just skip this part because this is the third time now) how you can’t jump off cliffs with no parachutes, how they’d been missing for over two weeks, how they cost ridiculous amounts of money to replace ($12,418.28 to be precise), how it takes 2 to 4 months to actually get new ones, and how we really wanted them back right now.

But then this time, I tallied up the actual cost of all the base gear that was missing, separate from the paraglider, the climbing gear, the body armor and clothing, and suggested that United send us a check in that amount, around $9000, so we could go ahead and get things going with ordering replacements, while we were still waiting 30 days to see if they ever find the rest. We can certainly live without that other stuff for a little while, but it will take until at least January for new base gear to get made even if we order it right now.

And my new United email penpal agreed that it was a good and reasonable request, and that she would process those checks and put them in the mail. Hopefully not air mail.

So, yeah. “The check’s in the mail.” But I believe her.

major progress has been made with @unitedairlines! will update on my blog tomorrow! #verygratefultoyou #donttreadontweeps
about 23 hours ago from web

So given the unfortunate nature of the whole situation (because I know more than anyone that s#@t happens), and the obvious mistakes made on all sides, I think this is a fair and acceptable band-aid for now, and I feel like United Airlines is doing the right thing by us.

Looking back on the last two weeks, which have been quite interesting, I am super impressed with
a. the kindness and support of my community
b. the power of the internet and social media
c. how well things work if you can figure out how to explain them correctly, especially when they are weird
d. the willingness of United’s Baggage Claim Representative to listen and respond once I finally got one to talk to
e. how much time I have on my hands when I can’t go base jumping
f. how I will never ever fail to be uplifted and touched by a happy ending

  • Greg

    New verses πŸ˜‰

    The United’ Ballad of Bad Service

    United took her money to send her bags along
    But somehow on a nonstop flight her bags have gotten gone
    How did they lose her wingsuit, her parachute and gear?
    Did they strap them on a customer and toss them out the rear?

    Oh United, why did her bags get lost?
    Oh United, you tell her to eat the cost!
    Oh United, your service aint the best! (really sucks)
    And even though she’s got receipts you won’t reimburse the rest! (give her all her bucks)

    Her luggage is her livelihood, she’s worried and can’t sleep,
    And now she’s sitting earthbound, but with promises to keep.
    They charged her for her baggage with their “transportation fee”
    But now that it is gone they say “Hey don’t look at me!”

    Oh United, you’ve cost her 12 thousand dollars
    Oh United, we’re getting hot under our collars
    Oh United, your customers will bail,
    Cuz by losing all the luggage you earn a #SUPERFAIL

    Well now it’s two weeks later, and there’s a Twitter throng
    All shouting for United to right this woeful wrong
    And Steph is sending emails from morning until night
    Until she wrote the TSA and told about her plight.

    Oh United, you’re too big and anonymical
    Oh United, you’re making us all cynical
    Oh United, clearly someone grabbed that stuff
    And if you can’t secure it well, we think we’ve said enough.

    So United finally listens, and reads the growing news
    Of the Twitter revolution and unhappy airline views
    And see they have been hashtagged with a #SUPERFAIL
    So United says “We’ll pay for it” and “The Check is in the Mail!”

    Oh United, you’ve opened up your eyes,
    Oh United, you’re realized all of Twitter flies.
    Oh United, you’ve sent a check, it’s going postal,
    But if you wanted this done right Direct Deposit is Bi-Coastal!

  • Brian

    Steph, while I am very glad that you had a happy ending, and will either be getting your stuff back OR be reimbursed fully, what stinks is all the people whose stuff is lost and are not as famous as you. Somehow, I don’t think United would have done the right thing if it wasn’t for all the negative publicity and the large public outcry.

  • Steph Davis

    Ha ha! While it’s certainly POSSIBLE that my Immense Global Fame is what caused United to address this (though so far no one has ever been able to withstand 14 days of nonstop phone calls and emails from me without finally agreeing to anything just to get me to go away–and they held out longer than most!), I think it’s more likely that you’re right about the social media outcry being a major part of what helped. We have a great community. Hopefully this is just one more incident that leads to better policies and outcomes in the future, across the board for everyone. πŸ™‚

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