(CNN) — When your luggage goes missing, it’s bad enough. Tackling the start of your vacation without your clothes or toiletries? It’s not something most of us want to do. But when your luggage itself is the reason you’re traveling in the first place, it gets considerably worse.
Luckily for Barry Sherry, when it happened to him, he had a secret weapon: a luggage tracker.
Sherry was traveling from his home in Virginia to Europe for the cycling trip of a lifetime: a week riding through the Swiss Alps, followed by another in Luxembourg, where his cycling group was riding with two former Tour de France competitors, and then a third week cycling in Finland with friends.
It was, he says, to be his last cycling trip to Europe. “I’m 68 – I’m getting old,” he says. “I keep doing these epic bike trips [abroad] and with each one I think it’s probably the last I’m going to do. Those beautiful climbs in Switzerland that I love so much, those may be in my past and not my future anymore – but I wanted one more trip to Switzerland.”
He booked a ticket with American Airlines – codeshare flights on British Airways planes, from Washington DC to London, and then London to Zurich – and packed up his bike for the trip. Inside he put an AirTag – Apple’s luggage tracker – which he’d bought a year earlier, after hearing other cyclists rave about them. He’d never had to really check how AirTags work, however, until his baptism of fire in Zurich. While his suitcase arrived on the carousel, his bike – zipped up in its carrier – had become one of the 7.6 out of every 1,000 items of luggage to be, as the industry coyly terms it, “mishandled.” In other words: lost.
The initial loss
He wasn’t worried at first. “I’ve traveled into Zurich three times with my bike, and one time it was at the oversized luggage area, another time it didn’t come out, but I went over to the corner and there was an employee who had my bike,” he says.
“So my first thought was, ‘It must be in the airport, I just have to find the right door. But I was looking around, didn’t see anything and opened the app.”
The “Find My” app, which traces Apple devices including AirTags, showed the bike at Heathrow.
Sherry wasn’t too concerned – he could see where the bike was, and it had at least made it across the Atlantic. He reported it to the lost baggage desk, showing her the app. “I said, ‘Look, I can tell you where it is.’ She looked and said ‘Oh!’ I can’t believe that it was the first time someone was using the Find My app, but she seemed surprised that I could show her where it was in real time.”
The staff member was unable to log the bike’s location, but reassured him that the majority of lost bags are reunited with their owners within 24 hours.
“My first thought was that it’d be on the next flight, so it wasn’t too bad. But when it didn’t make the next one, or the one after that, with each successive flight it didn’t arrive with, it got worse and worse,” he says.
The long wait
British Airways has up to six flights per day from Heathrow to Zurich, but as each day came and went, none of them had Sherry’s bike on board.
He’d rented a house in the mountains where he and a Switzerland-based friend were planning to cycle from, but, stuck without his bike – and moving around too much to make it worth renting another – he told him not to come.
“I’d been really looking forward to biking in the high Alps – it’s such a challenge going up those big mountains, and I thought it might be the last time I did them,” he says.
There’s another reason why Sherry is so attached to his bike.
“Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with cancer, and the only time I wasn’t thinking about it was when I was riding my bike,” he says. “The rest of the time you’re dwelling on it, but I never thought about the cancer or treatment when I was riding it.”
Sitting alone in that house in the mountains, wondering if BA were ever going to deliver his bike, and wondering whether they’d replace the item if they lost it – the replacement value is now $8,000 – was too much. “I was in the most beautiful place on Earth and I just couldn’t enjoy where I was,” he says. “After one day, I left, I couldn’t stand it anymore.” He went to Lake Lucerne instead, and on to Sissach, to stay with his friend Ben, who he should have been riding with. Each day, he updated his location on the British Airways website, and each day, his bike failed to arrive – or move from Heathrow, according to the AirTag.
The Twitter campaign
By this point Sherry was tweeting the airline daily, showing them screenshots of the mapped location of the bike, but getting generic responses from British Airways that he believes were bots. He’d spoken the day after arrival to one BA representative in Zurich who was a “really nice guy” but told Sherry he “didn’t have the ability” to pass on the location of the bike – he could only note that the owner was tracking it. On day four, his friend Ben called again and got no joy.
But then came a pivotal moment. That evening, he tweeted the location of the bag again, tagging American Airlines (who’d sold him the ticket) and Heathrow Airport, too. “AA seemed to have a human at the other end, and I thought maybe they could reach a human at BA,” he says. Heathrow Airport, too, is active on social media. Meanwhile, British Airways had only sent him automated emails.
Was it that final tweet, tagging AA and Heathrow, that did it? Sherry will never know – though he suspects the daily tweets showing screenshots of the bike’s location were the key. After his tweet on Thursday night to all three accounts, on Friday morning he checked his Find My app, and saw his bike was on the move. An email from BA confirmed it was being delivered to him. Of course, it wasn’t so easy – by this point he’d updated the delivery address to Luxembourg, where the next stage of his trip was due to start from, and of course, the bike was loaded onto a flight to Zurich.
From there, it was flown to Luxembourg and couriered to his hotel.
Sherry’s dream week of cycling in Switzerland may have come to nothing – and he has no plans to return for a final Alpine ride – but his week in Luxembourg went ahead as planned, riding with the group he’s part of, Rooster Racing, alongside Fränk and Andy Schleck, brothers who’ve shared the podium at the Tour de France. His trip after that to Finland, to stay with friends and cycle there, went well too.
In fact, from the moment he got his hands on it again, everything went smoothly – until the return journey. Sherry was booked to fly Helsinki to Copenhagen on Finnair, then Copenhagen-Heathrow and Heathrow-Dulles on British Airways. Except his last two flights were canceled – he was eventually put on a direct Finnair flight to London, and a Virgin Atlantic one to Dulles. “I never had to see BA again, and I was happy,” he says. “And I had no problems with luggage.”
So what was the key to reuniting Sherry with his bike? British Airways didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Sherry suspects that the AirTag – and his daily tweets, screenshotting its location – had something to do with it.
“It helped being able to see every few hours that it was last seen a few minutes ago, and I think American Airlines or maybe the Heathrow Twitter team got it moving.”
If not, he says, “I might still be waiting – although I’d probably have face time with real people in DC to recover it.
“Had I not started an annoying Twitter campaign, I do think it would have remained at Heathrow until I could have talked to someone face to face.”
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