When travel goes terribly wrong: A saga about a missed flight and a lost bag

What happens when everything goes wrong while traveling? This is the story of a trip in which Murphy’s Law, which states that “everything that can go wrong, will!” reared its head.

I had two back-to-back trips to Mexico planned. One to Quintana Roo where I flew into Cancun, which went off without a hitch. The next, was to Colima. I tried to get a direct flight from Cancun to Colima, but it was not really feasible. So, I decided to go back to the States for a day, then board a flight to Guadalajara en route to Colima via an auto transport.

Crowd at Sky Harbor due to terminal 4 closure

I grabbed an Uber in Phoenix to take me to Sky Harbor International Airport. As my driver approached terminal 4, we were met with a massive traffic jam—one my Uber driver, nor I, had ever witnessed at the airport before. After 15 minutes stuck in traffic, my Uber driver began to suspect some sort of terrorist activity. I on the other thought it more likely to be an accident. After another 15 minutes barely moving a few hundred feet, I looked online to discover there was some sort of security threat and terminal 4 had been shut down. My Uber driver was not able to make it to the terminal as traffic was being diverted, so, he suggested I get out where we were and walk the rest of the way. Mind you, this was the middle of the summer in Phoenix, so lugging my bags all the way to terminal 4 was an arduous task, one that was met with a sheet of sweet that blanked my body.

Just as I was thinking about how thirsty I was, an airport official was on the street handing out free water. Kudos to Sky Harbor for this.

As I made it inside terminal 4, I was grateful for the air conditioned space. I was however meet by hoards of people spread throughout each side of the terminal were we were sequestered.

Not much information had been flowing, but what we ascertained was that someone abandoned a running vehicle. While authorities investigated, we we forced to wait. More than 3 hours went by before they re-opened the terminal. At this point, everyone jockeyed for position—whether it was to get on an elevator, ride an escalator, or get in line to check bags, like I was. I waited in what I thought was a line, but soon discovered it was not. Airline personnel finally had everyone going in the right direction, but the wait was long. I was thankful that I decided to get to the airport a bit earlier than normal, but time was not on my side if I was going to make my flight, which oddly, still showed an on-time departure.

I had finally made it to the area in which to self-check my bag, but the system rejected it because I had already passed the 45-minute mark, the minimum amount of time required to check a bag. With only 20 minutes left until my departing flight, I finally surrendered to the fact that I was not going to make it. I got on the phone with an agent and rescheduled for the following day. There were only 4 seats left on the flight, so thankfully I called when I did.

I had a friend pick me up from the airport, by which time the flow of traffic was back to normal.


The next day I started the process all over again. Got an Uber, drove to the airport…this time without incident. As a matter of fact, for a Monday morning, the airport was unusually slow. There were only a couple of people in line to check their bags, a very unusual sight at one of the busiest airports in the world.

After seeing my bag off, I headed toward security. Again, no line at all! There were a mere two people in front of me. I whizzed by security and was on the other side well before my flight departure.

American Eagle flight to Mexico by MikesRoadTrip.com

My flight departed on time and a was relatively short one into Guadalajara at just 2.5 hours. I was one of the first passengers off the plane and found just a few people ahead of me at immigration. I was threw is just a couple of minutes. Everything about this day was polar opposite to the day before. Or so I thought.

About 15 minutes had passed before bags began showing up on the carousel. I was starting to get antsy as I saw the line to get through customs increasing as another flight had since landed. I waited and waited for my bag, but it never came. The line for customs continued to increase as yet another flight had come in.

I asked airline personnel to see if all the bags has has been offloaded, when they confirmed, they asked for my bag ticket and began searching. They quickly discovered my bag went to San Jose, California. The reason for the error was that my bag was tagged with someone else’s luggage. I never noticed it, but another name was listed on my claim ticket, which likely meant they had mine.

Guadalajara airport crowd at customs

I was so frustrated by this time I had contemplated just trying to get a flight back to Arizona. This had to be a sign that I should not to be on this trip. All I wanted to do was get out of the baggage claim area and past customs, but well over 500 people now stood in my way. I was beyond frustrated! I felt trapped.

As the wait grew, so too did the frustration of the passengers. People were yelling at officials. I have no idea what happened, but after an hour of waiting, the line finally started to move. I imagine connecting flights and other issues were at risk and authorities had no choice but to put things into high gear.

I had someone on the other side from the Colima Tourism office waiting for me and could not imagine how frustrated they must have been. They drove 2.5 hours to pick me up, then had to wait all that time for me.  Then, we had a 2.5 hour drive back to Colima. I could not let them down, so I decided to move forward with my plans and continue to on with my trip rather than get a flight back home. By the way, I was heading to Colima for a travel conference called ATMEX.

lost bag on trip to Mexico

I was told that the airline would get in touch with me first thing in the morning to find the best way to get my bag to me. I received a call from San Jose airport in the middle of the night, which I ended up returning just a couple hours later since I was up early. When I called the number provided, a massage came on and said something like “This number is no longer in service, but call this number…” I called that number and it said to hit #3 to be connected to a live operator. When I did this, I received a message that said “This prompt cannot be used.” I called back and received the same message. I called again, but this time hit 0, but then received a message that no operators were available. This went on for hours.

I finally got a hold of someone by calling an 800 number for AA, but they said they had no information, only the airport would be able to help. I told them there was no way to get a hold of anyone and it was like a vicious circle of incompetency.

I finally got a hold of someone who said the bag would be routed through Dallas and would arrive into Guadalajara at 9:40pm in the evening. I told them there were better flights so that the bag could arrive earlier, but they said there was nothing they could do, that the decision was made at the San Jose Airport.

Lost luggage from Sky Harbor airport by MikesRoadTrip.com

I was then told that the bag would be processed the next day because the office is only open 8-5pm. I told them this was unacceptable and they needed to get the back to me that evening. I finally spoke with someone who assured me that they would get it in a taxi or something and I would have it by morning. I called hours later to confirm this and it was intimated that was the case. I called yet again an hour after the flight had landed to make sure my bag was there in Guadalajara, because when I called earlier, someone said there was no way of knowing, which I found really difficult to believe.

When I spoke with someone after the bag was confirmed in Guadalajara, I was informed that the bag would not be processed until the next day. I was so furious that I could not sleep. I got a call shortly after 8am the next day from someone confirming my hotel address. I finally received my bag around 3:30pm that day. I had essentially been apart from my bag for 3 days. My clothes were gross and I hadn’t had a proper shower.

Lessons learned:

  • Even on direct/non-stop flights, your bag can be lost.
  • Before you leave the airline ticket counter after checking your back, look at your claim ticket and make sure your name and proper destination is listed.
  • Even on short, non-stop flights, it’s worth carrying some essentials, i.e. toothbrush, toothpaste, facial soap, lotion, contact lens solution/prescription glasses, etc.

Have you ever had a nightmare travel situation? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.

Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.