Those of you who travel by air for business or pleasure know all about how much fun flying is these days… NOT! I have flown nearly 2 million miles in my life and have grown to dislike it so much that now if I have to travel less than 1,500 miles to a hunt it is an automatic drive for me. Anything farther and only a tight schedule will get me on an airplane.
The last straw occurred in October 2010. I flew Delta from Tucson, Arizona, to Montgomery, Alabama, with a plane change in Atlanta, for an industry hunt. Sure, whitetail hunting in LA (Lower Alabama) in October is a fool’s game, way too early for deer to be moving and all that, but often when I go on these kinds of trips the purpose is to network with industry folks and other writers, not kill deer. (And you thought all the hunts we get to go on are sweetheart deals, right? I never saw a buck in four days.)
The flight down was OK, until I waited at the baggage carousel in Montgomery. Standing at a baggage carousel anymore is like playing the roulette wheel in Vegas. Red or black? Bags arrive or not? When I saw my duffel bag come off I thought, outstanding! Then I saw my bow case.
I had had my gihugous aluminum Kalispel bow case for more than 15 years. I bought it at an archery pro shop in Anchorage, Alaska, for $350 in the 1990s. Knowing I would be flying tens of thousands of miles each year to and from Alaska, I wanted something that could take massive abuse and was large enough for me to pack two bows and a lot of ancillary gear. This case was perfect. I flew more than 100,000 miles around the world with that case. All over the U.S., Africa, Canada, Mexico, South America, etc. At one point I had a friend weld the corners back together when they became cracked after years of the usual baggage handler abuse. It was awesome.
And then, Montgomery. As you can see by the pictures, Delta destroyed the undestroyable, wrecked the unwreckable and mangled the unmangleable. My old friend is toast.
I went to the Delta counter and the two young girls there were in awe. “We’ve seen a lot of abused baggage, but never anything like this,” one said. A nice lady from TSA came over and shook her head. “How in the world did they do that?,” she asked. Theories abounded, from it got caught in a carousel to it fell off the baggage cart in Atlanta and was then run over by a truck. The way it looked to me, somebody behind the scenes thought there were guns inside and tried to physically hammer and pry it open and finally gave up. Or they didn’t like hunters and decided to teach one a lesson. I’ll never know for sure.
Everyone thought my two new bows would be destroyed, too, but amazingly both and all the arrows and accessories were unharmed. So the drill was this: Fill out paperwork for a claim. Take bow case with me to the lodge, since I needed a way to get everything there. In the middle of the hunt my friend and writing colleague John E. Phillips was kind enough to drive me two hours back to Montgomery, where I bought an inexpensive plastic case I could modify enough to get my bows and most of my gear back home again. Next we went back to Delta, where I had to surrender my aluminum case so they could send it to a repair shop that would determine whether or not it could be repaired. If not, they would replace it, they said. The manager at Delta said he would ship it that day via FedEx, and he gave me a copy of the air bill so I could track it.
I finish the hunt, come home and four days later, attempt to track the shipment. FedEx has no record of it. The repair shop has never heard of it. I spend an hour trying to find a telephone number in the Delta maze so I can speak with someone and express my concerns. Impossible. Finally I find a way to email customer service, which at the end of the day responds to me saying the case was shipped that day, four days after they promised to handle such a simple task.
The bad news? Unrepairable. The worse news? Kalispel closed shop shortly thereafter and you cannot find one of those cases on the secondary market to this day. Sure, there are lots of excellent travel cases out there. I love my hard plastic Plano cases, and SKB makes great ones, too. Americase makes solid aluminum cases, but none have the interior configuration I want. But nobody makes a high-volume box like that one, which was light enough to make it practical to fly with.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned here. One is obvious — to the airlines today, all passengers are nothing more than a piece of meat. For the most part, stellar customer service is as extinct as the dinosaur. When you fly you have to keep all of your paperwork and be prepared to handle flight delays and cancellations and lost or damaged luggage.
The second lesson is that when you fly, you need the highest-quality hard case for your equipment you can find. The airlines are going to throw your case around and abuse it, on that you can be as sure as the sun rising in the east.
Any of you out there have horror stories like this you’d like to share with us? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.