A week after the Valentine's Day snow-and-ice storm forced the cancellation of nearly 700 flights, misplaced bags continued to clog the baggage claim area yesterday of Philadelphia International Airport's Terminal C.
US Airways Group Inc. workers sorted hundreds of bags yesterday, and officials of Philadelphia's biggest airline said they had reduced the number of bags still waiting to be reunited with their owners to about 250 by yesterday afternoon.
All the bags were expected to be sent out for delivery by the end of the day, US Airways spokesman Philip Gee said just before 5 p.m. yesterday.
The most surprising aspect of the pileup, however, may be that it was not at all unusual - at least not after the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Gee said the number of lost bags was normal for a few days after a major weather event, when numerous flights are canceled and others delayed, causing missed connections at hub airports. The weather prompted the airline to cancel 675 of about 1,700 flights scheduled from last Wednesday through Saturday, he said. US Airways handles about 30,000 bags a day at Philadelphia, its main international-connecting hub, Gee said.
The bags accumulated in Philadelphia because the flights they were to leave on were canceled, or because they were returned here when connecting flights in other cities were canceled.
US Airways customers complained that they had a hard time getting information about their bags from the airline, which handles more than 60 percent of the passengers and flights at Philadelphia airport.
Kathy Pulver has spent six days waiting, calling and driving back and forth to the airport from her home in Medford, to try to track down her suitcase.
"Everyone has been very, very polite, but no suitcase," the consultant said yesterday. "I'm going to go back [to the airport] today with my claim filled out and look again. Hopefully, I'll find the bag."
The situation was not as bad as the debacle that US Airways faced during the 2004 Christmas holidays, when an estimated 10,000 bags a day - and as many as 50,000 in all - went astray at a time when the airline was struggling through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
US Airways has one of the industry's worst records for mishandled baggage, ranking 13th last year among 19 major carriers. It has acknowledged that its performance at its Philadelphia hub is the poorest in its system. Since last summer, it has hired more bag handlers and spent more than $10 million to upgrade baggage-handling equipment.
As a result, the airline tended to perform well during the holiday period, and even paid all its employees a small bonus. December in Philadelphia was also marked by mild weather and no snow.
"It's been a nightmare," said Joe McLean, an advertising salesman from Springfield whose Valentine's Day flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles was canceled. "They told me it's been located at some airport and they're sending it back, but I've been waiting for days."
McLean's flight was supposed to leave at 9:30 a.m. last Wednesday, but the plane wasn't boarded until 7:30 p.m. The flight ended up being canceled, and McLean said he had to stand in a 21/2-hour line to file a lost-baggage claim.
"By the time they get around to delivering to me, it could be Christmas," McLean said.