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ON THE SPOT | BY CATHARINE HAMM

Lost cause

August 12, 2007|Catharine Hamm

Question: My wife and I left L.A. on June 28 on American Airlines, which was to connect to British Airways in London to Copenhagen. There we were to begin a 10-day Baltic cruise. Our flight to London was delayed, and we missed our connections in Heathrow. British Airways told us our luggage would be on the next one or two flights. When it came time to leave for the cruise on July 1, we still did not have any luggage. We ended up buying a few things, but they were outrageously expensive -- $80 for six pairs of men's underwear, for instance. We got one bag midway though the cruise, another when we got home and a third is still missing. What is going on?

Agoura Hills

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Question: I took a hop on British Airways from Rome to Heathrow on July 22. We were assured our three bags would be delivered to our hotel that night or sent to our home in L.A., where we were to travel the next day (on Air New Zealand). In fact, BA said it was likely the bags would arrive before we did. What has unfolded has been a traveler's nightmare. I finally got the bags 13 days after we checked them in. Shouldn't people be warned about this?

Trudi Behr

Los Angeles

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Answers: British Airways has had such a bad time of it recently that it's almost tempting to feel sorry for the chaps.

First, it recently was named the worst-performing airline of major European carriers, according to the Assn. of European Airlines. Its long-haul flights arrived late 44% of the time and departed late 33% of the time.

Second, it was recently fined $300 million in a price-fixing scheme. William W. Mercer, acting associate attorney general, said the airline "managed to foil the free market system."

But just when you're tempted to think that life has kicked BA in the pants, you start getting letters like those above and reading blogs (just Google "British Airways" and "lost luggage" and you'll discover such writings as www.londonlogue.com/travel-tips/british-airways-still-snowed-in-with- lost -baggage.html) and your sympathy goes south.

When I learned that British Airways had a backlog of more than 20,000 bags toward the end of June, I began to feel as warm and cuddly toward BA as I did toward the State Department and its passport application prophets.

So here's a word of advice if you're thinking of connecting through Heathrow on British Airways anytime soon:

Don't.

The airport is maxed out (it's handling about 20 million more passengers a year than it was designed for), and BA clearly is having issues with baggage. (In April, it was outed as having the worst record for lost luggage among big European carriers: It mishandled more than a million pieces in 2006.)

But if you're stuck with a BA ticket, here's what you can do:

* Make sure you leave yourself more than enough time to make your connections. Besides the increased air-passenger traffic this year, you'll be dealing with airport construction. BA's Terminal 5, which will consolidate airline operations, is to open in March, but for now, you probably will have to cross from one terminal to another.

* Pack light. Really, really light. If you want to carry your bag on, remember that you can take only one piece of hand luggage. That does not mean a bag and a purse; you can have one or the other but not both (which is not to say you can't stuff the purse in the suitcase unless, of course, it's like my purse, which is the size of a suitcase).

And most of all, in this, the summer of our discontent -- can we say this too many times? -- let the flier beware. And make sure you pack some clean underwear in that carry-on.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@ latimes.com.

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