International connection mishaps: Could this be contributing to OR Tambo’s baggage delays?

2019-02-16 12:30 - Selene Brophy
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International Airports are a hub of energy and activity - as millions of people get to where they're going.

OR Tambo International Airport is no exception. And while baggage issues exist across these mini-cities unto themselves - SA's busiest port of entry has had some notorious baggage issues of its own.  

After arriving back in the country, following a week-long expedition to Spain to discover all there is about the Camino Santiago de Compostela, I think I now have an inkling of an idea as to why some days there might be more lost luggage backlogs than others.

READ: PICS: OR Tambo International Airport unveils first phase of R4.5 billion development  

It's as obvious as the pope being Catholic, really. 

See, I've had my luggage disappear on me once before. And having been bitten, I'm not at all shy about picking up my luggage and re-checking it, along every stage of a multiple-leg journey.

Admittedly, it gets tricky when you have a connecting flight within the hour of your arrival. But try a ski trip with just one change of clothes and you’ll understand why.

READ: The 3 stages of lost-luggage grief: What to do when you and your bag go on separate adventures 

A few fellow passengers I was travelling with from Madrid to Cape Town, stood with me as I waited for my bag at OR Tambo. To their dismay, they could not believe their bags were on the carousel.

To their knowledge they had checked their bags straight through. 

And so did a lot of other passengers, as a number of bags circulated the carousel, unclaimed.  

All paranoia aside, many passengers are unaware that all international arriving customers, with their final destination in South Africa, still need to collect their baggage at the first port of entry as per customs regulations.

Airlines usually announce this when landing too.

Despite checking in your bags from an international airport - in my case Madrid, through to a domestic city like Cape Town – you have to claim your luggage and clear international customs at your first point of entry into South Africa – in this case Joburg.

You then need to re-check your bags for the final domestic destination. Passengers need to do this, even if their bags have been checked through with a domestic, code-share partner. In this case, BA operated by Comair, is the alliance partner for Iberia. 

Two Dutch students who were also on our flight, travelling to Cape Town to embark on a 6-month internship in SA, were about to do so without their bags. They were also under the impression that their luggage was safely en route to the Mother City. 

But a quick phone call saw Swissport - the ground handler at OR Tambo for airlines such as Iberia, Lufthansa, Air China, Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Swiss International Air Lines, and SAA –  spring into action.

Swidssport staff Priscilla Malele and Andrea Bull were commended by my fellow travellers for going out of their way to track the bags before our flight took off. They used the bag tag info to track the Dutch students' luggage, which had since been moved to OR Tambo lost and found. They then had it brought to the Cape Town bound BA flight, before departure. 

This first port of entry rule of thumb does not apply for outbound passengers though – as South African Airways (SAA) passengers travelling on multiple sectors are able to through-check their baggage to the final destination when booked on the SA code all the way.

But ultimately, even though this incident turned out okay, it’s a case of shame on you if you don’t double-check all the rules specific to your final destination when travelling internationally.

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