July 31, 2008

Luggage Glitch Delays JFK’s American Airlines Flights

By Josh Seidman, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 31--Long check-in lines, a departure board covered with delayed flights, and at least 1,000 suitcases separated from their owners greeted passengers as they entered Kennedy Airport's American Airlines terminal yesterday.

At 4 a.m., the software that controls American Airlines' automated baggage system experienced a glitch, resulting in delays that affected about 35 flights, said Ned Raynolds, American Airlines' corporate communication manager.

No flights were canceled, and flight departures were delayed from 60 to 90 minutes, an airline spokesman said.

"These are the bags that have not yet found a home," Raynolds said.

The piles of luggage belonged to passengers who had flown across the United States, and from the Caribbean and Europe.

American Airlines officials said they couldn't provide an exact number of passengers who experienced flight delays.

Many passengers were frustrated both with the glitch and American's handling of it.

"It took over three hours to check our bags," said David Brown, 39, of Sydney, Australia. "We were told to stay in line, even as the airport was announcing the final boarding calls for our first flight."

Brown arrived at the airport at 9:30 a.m. to catch his 11:15 a.m. flight to San Francisco. However, the check-in delays forced him to miss his flight and catch an evening flight to California. "We'll be lucky if we make our next flight," he said.

Gracie D'Souza, a Las Vegas resident who flew in to Kennedy Airport at 6 a.m. on her way to Helsinki, wondered whether she'd make it there with her luggage.

"Nobody has given me a definite answer about the problems or my departure time or anything involving my flight," D'Souza said.

By noon, the software system, which reads the bar codes on the luggage tags to determine the bags' proper destinations, was running, but only at about 60 percent, Raynolds said.

"The problem had to do with the software, which is what tells the conveyor belts where to take the luggage," Raynolds said. "As a result, many of the passengers on our morning flights took off without their luggage."

Flight delays continued into last night. American Airlines averages about 95 daily flights out of Kennedy Airport, he said.

While the system was being repaired, the airline used manual labor, including about a dozen people from its sales department, to handle about 20 percent of the total baggage volume, Raynolds said.

"It's like we've gone back in time 60 or 70 years," he said.

American Airlines offered several options to accommodate passengers who were affected by the luggage problem, including taking later flights with their suitcases or taking multiple pieces of carry-on luggage.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas, said the airline would waive first and second checked bag fees, but it's unlikely the waiver would affect many customers because most fights delayed by the software glitch were international, and bag fees don't apply.

Raynolds said the airline is using its flights out of LaGuardia Airport to transport some of the excess baggage to its owners.

It's uncertain how long it will take for the bags to be delivered to their rightful owners, several American Airline officials said.

Staff writer Keith Herbert contributed to this story.


Many U.S. airlines have raised fees this year to cover for added fuel costs. Charges include:

In May, American Airlines became the first to set a charge, $15, for a first piece of checked luggage.

US Airways, in June, became the first major domestic carrier to charge for soft drinks, setting charges at $2 for soda, water, juice and coffee.

Earlier this month, US Airways said it would start removing in-flight movie entertainment systems from domestic flights in November to save fuel by cutting weight.


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