The past few days have been pure chaos for people trying to travel home after the holidays. For any Iowan who was caught up in the perfect airline cancellation and delay storm of bad weather, staff shortages, and COVID scares, you are not alone.

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Like many others this year, I was traveling for the holidays and I chose to fly home. A few days before I was supposed to fly back to Iowa from the East Coast I received this message.




Three whole days before I was set to fly back to Iowa, my flight was cancelled. I found this relatively strange, but I bit the bullet and booked a new flight through a different airport.

My initial flight change would get me back to my home in Iowa on January 5th. I asked to come in earlier if possible so I wouldn't miss work.

This associate on the phone with me trying to book my trip said that there were no flights from the nearest airport to me in Pennsylvania (Scranton) to Cedar Rapids (Eastern Iowa Airport). She told me that most of the flights were cancelled due to inclement weather.

The representative told me that most of the airline's flights out of O'Hare Aiport would be cancelled due to the "inclement weather."

Kerri Mac/CANVA
Kerri Mac/CANVA

There were 19,664 delays on January 2nd (which so happened to be the day I was meant to initially fly out). Chicago O'Hare saw 555 flight cancellations and 725 delays on Sunday, January 2nd.

These cancellations have been going on for more than a week now. Airline officials said that 115 flights were cancelled on Monday, December 27th across their entire system.

American Airlines Ongoing Labor Dispute Causes Delays And Cancellations For The Carrier
Getty Images

Inclement weather (such as the storm expected to come through Eastern Iowa on New Years Day) and some concerns over the Omicron variant have caused delays and cancellations in many airports.

As of 10 AM on the morning of January 3rd, the number of cancellations and delays through Chicago has gone down significantly. O'Hare has canceled 135 flights and delayed 109.

On my way home, my initial flight from Newark, New Jersey had a gate change, a flight delay, and the airplane crew couldn't let us off right after it landed because there were no available gates.

American Airlines Ongoing Labor Dispute Causes Delays And Cancellations For The Carrier
Getty Images

Then after finally landing in Denver I immediately hopped on my final plane to Cedar Rapids. Three hours later we had yet to take off. The entire team was short staffed, and the pilots did not arrive until well over an hour and a half AFTER the flight was supposed to take off.

With cancellations and delays comes concern over checked bags and luggage. I was one of the unlucky individuals who lost their checked bag due to the airline.

It's not uncommon for luggage to get mishandled or even lost. According to Travel and Leisure, airlines like United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Southwest Airlines lost or mishandled between three and four bags of every 1,000.

It's not pleasant nor is it necessarily easy (depending on the airline) but if your luggage is lost there are a few ways to get everything straightened out.

What to Do If An Airline Has Lost Your Bag

I ended up getting in at approximately 3:45 in the morning. It took about 45 minutes for the checked bags to go to the baggage claim. After seeing the first batch of bags go through, mine was nowhere in sight.

I went to the staff member working at the desk, and she told me that it was probably still in Denver and would come through on the next available flight.

If the airline loses your luggage make sure to find an actual person to help you get your barings. If you have your bag's tag, they can help track it for you. I couldn't find mine so I had to call the airline's help desk.

Hand luggage at the airport in front of an airplane
Ralf Geithe

Most airlines will mail your luggage to you. This is ideal if you are like me and live a distance from the airport. You probably won't see your luggage for at least 3-7 days after your flight.

If you do live close to the airport, dropping by and picking up your luggage is a whole different beast. Some airlines will only keep the luggage locked up their for about 3 days. After that there probably isn't a way for you to get it back.

The luggage will probably fly in on the next flight from your previous destination. For example, I flew into Cedar Rapids from Denver, so my luggage was flown out on the next flight from Denver.

Man pulling suitcase and entering hotel room. Traveler going in to room or walking inside motel with luggage.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is a whole industry surrounding "unclaimed" baggage. 99.9% of checked bags are claimed, leaving a small number of bags that never get returned. There are several stores all across the country that sell the contents of these bags along with the bags themselves.

Make sure you have a general idea for what your luggage and the contents of it are worth. Itemise it so if (worst case scenario) it cannot be returned you can get reimbursed.

According to Travel Addicts, the airlines are required to reimburse you for "delayed, lost or damaged baggage up to $3,300 per person on domestic flights."

Besides weather, another cause for some of these delays is a staffing shortage due to the pandemic. The pilots for many of these flights are attempting to pick up as many shifts as they can, but federal regulations cap their flying time at a certain point, according to Aviation Pros.

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