(The Kite and the Plot)


During June and July, Peter Lynn kites Ltd made a 20kgm prototype to test and refine a design for the next world’s largest kite (a ray which will be nearly 70m wingspan, 1250sq.m and weigh 200kgms).

In last month’s newsletter I described how the bag containing this prototype went missing while I was flying from New Zealand to Germany in early August and my subsequent attempts to locate it- and Lufthansa’s apparent determination to obstruct these attempts.

They wouldn’t accept a photo of the bag and its contents to help with identification until after they’d declared it completely lost and were attempting to pay out nominal compensation in lieu, and for nearly a month refused repeated requests for tracking information so that I could initiate independent searches.

In that newsletter, I made a plea for ideas to help the search- and later, on the 4th October- offered a reward of US$1000 for information leading to its recovery.

Which drew an immediate response, convincing me for a while that the kite would soon be returned.

David Gomberg asked his contacts within United Airlines (a Lufthansa Star Alliance partner airline) to trace the lost bag by their system and they replied on the 6th Oct that it had (as Air NZ also believed) gone missing at Heathrow on the 12th August.  But they were also able to tell us that it had then gone to Brazil, from where it was returned to Lufthansa at Frankfurt on the 30 August by Tam Air flight JJ8070 with tag JJ 072806, referenced to my name and original tag (NZ049157).

Greatly excited, I immediately passed this information on to Lufthansa.

Unfortunately Lufthansa’s typically terse response (8th Oct.) was just that this new information “—has not produced a positive result.” Continual requests to Lufthansa for more information eventually yielded an unconvincing;  “—it was not your kite” statement and a copy of the original four line response from Heinz Aurich at Lufthansa/Frankfurt Central Baggage Tracing of the 7th Oct which didn’t shed any more light but did finish with: “We suggest passenger to use CARGO next time” . If Lufthansa don’t trust their checked baggage system, they should inform intending passengers of this before we buy our tickets.

I’d guess that Lufthansa‘s earlier obstructive behaviour was driven by nothing more than avoiding time consuming correspondence that was going to cost more than just paying out the nominal ticket specified maximum liability.  But in their unwillingness to respond to questions about the trace provided by United Airlines via David Gomberg, I’m suspicious that they are now hiding something.

Perhaps just that they couldn’t be bothered to check out this new lead, or perhaps by October, they’d dumped the August records that would have enabled them to check it out one way or the other, or perhaps they found out that it was returned to them as stated by UA and that they‘d then lost it again.

Click here to see the kite Lost in Space.

Whichever, I’ve not now able to get them to answer even simple questions about this.  Lufthansa are only communicative when trying to get me to settle for their nominal offer so they can close the file.

I expect I’m also off their xmas card list.

Unfortunately, the new hope that David bought to the table caused us to delay the commencement of a replacement prototype for another few weeks- but we’ve now re-jigged everyone’s travel plans around the December/January period so that the original launch date (late Feb ‘11) should still be achievable- providing that the basic design proves sound-  which will be a check on whether I really do know anything much about why kites fly I suppose.

And the time I’ve put into trying to prise information out of Lufthansa could have been more productively spent- but I’ll just add this to the bill they’ll be getting.

Fortunately there have also been some positives;

I’ve learnt useful things about airline baggage systems.

Apparently, some airlines, including Lufthansa, only scan bags at check-in and final destination.  So if a bag disappears in the middle of a journey, they make calming noises and hope it gets found somewhere and returned to them.  Other airlines scan bags every time they are handled, so have more complete records- including for any Lufthansa bags they happen to be carrying.

Airlines don’t want to lose bags- it’s expensive for them and not good for customer relations.  But when they really do lose (rather than temporarily mislay) a bag, the effort they will put into finding it is balanced against their maximum liability for declaring a total loss,  specified in ticketing conditions and usually about Euro 1200.   But this limited liability does not excuse negligence.  Airlines, as for every business (and every individual) have a ‘duty of care’ with respect to other people’s property.  If they cause loss or damage by reckless or negligent actions then they become liable for the full cost.

Bags rarely if ever disappear completely. Some accessible data base somewhere knows where they are, and even if their bar code and name tag are lost, forensic examination can identify the owner- if  knowing this is important enough (like if you’re a terrorist).

For blameless citizens like you and me though, it can be cheaper for them to pay out the Euro 1200 than to go looking.

The special situation with this kite was that, like for a violin soloist travelling to do a concert, insurance could cover the amount the violin’s value exceeds the airline’s liability limit, but the reputational and direct costs of having to cancel the concert are a different matter.

So next time I lose something important, I’m going to turn into a mad dog click hear to see a video and bite someone straight away- rather than waiting politely for a week or so to see if it turns up by itself and starting to bark only when it doesn’t.

I expect that if I’d had tracing information from the first day and agitated enough to get someone within the Star Alliance network to actively engage with this, then the kite would have been found.

Also positively, I’ve discovered a real friend in Air NZ- which is a bit embarrassing as (after 20 years) I’d just moved my frequent flier membership from them to Singapore Airlines (also a Star Alliance airline).

In complete contrast to Lufthansa, Air NZ could not have been more friendly and helpful during this saga. Not that their efforts have been any more successful though, but in fairness, I didn’t ask for their help until it was probably already too late.

Unsolicited, they’ve now re-elevated me to Air NZ Gold Card status and given me a bunch of air miles. Their CEO (Rob Fyfe) has been in personal contact offering sympathy and help a number of times

Perhaps this is their way of apologising for the surly behaviour of their sister airline.

Thanks everyone for your support and suggestions, thanks also to Paul Reynolds for the morphing videos.

Peter Lynn, Dameisha Beach, Shenzhen, October 31,  ‘10

And yes, seeing as you’ve  asked, the wind here has been challenging- but more than compensated by the Shenzhen Kite Association‘s excellent organisation and hospitality. The local “Great Wall“ Cabernet Sauvingon is not so bad- a little rough around the edges at first impression, but by the second opinion, er, bottle,  had smoothed out nicely