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Lion Air lost my bag: Just two weeks into our travels

We had only been travelling for two weeks on a twelve month trip when I was confronted with the possibility of having to re-buy all of my belongings again...

After 10 amazing days exploring Komodo National Park, we found ourselves back at the Labuan Bajo airport and en-route to Manado, about to get our first taste of internal flying in Indonesia. We’d heard the rumours about Indonesian airlines – they have one of the worlds worst reputations. We didn’t appreciate how bad they were until Lion Air lost my bag.

Labuan Bajo airport Komodo Bandar Udara LBJ dragon
Jurassic Park: Dark clouds looming over Labuan Bajo Airport

The airport in Labuan Bajo is very small, but we struggled to find our check-in counter. Eventually I spotted a hand-written sign (a piece of paper) stuck to the front of one of the counters. It made us laugh, but in truth our first impressions didn’t bode well for Lion Air’s reputation.

Broken Tag Machine

It took three members of staff, and about 30 minutes to check in our two bags. They couldn’t get the baggage tag machine to print, yet were more interested in laughing about the situation, and playing on their phones.

Eventually the machine printed out our tags and we watched our backpacks shimmy along the conveyer belt and out of sight. As we walked away, Nick jokingly said there was probably a 50/50 chance that they’d make it to Manado…

The only other tourists on our flight

To get to Manado from Labuan Bajo we had to fly to Denpassar, and then stop at Surabaya to catch our final flight to Manado. It was just us, and another couple of tourists on this last leg of our journey – All other passengers were Indonesian.

As soon we landed, the Indonesians sprung up and everyone started grabbing their hand luggage and pushing their way out in order to be the first off the plane. We waited with the other tourists for the chaotic disembarkment to subside. As we followed behind them we noticed they were using the same Osprey Farpoint Day bags as us!

Realising our similar taste in luggage, we got chatting and discovered that they were an Austrian couple who’d just come from Bali. They had planned to dive Tulumben, but after the eruption of Mount Agung, decided to made a quick exit and somehow ended up in Manado. It felt quite comforting to speak with another set of travellers. You share a sense of anxious excitement, especially when faced with such unfamiliar culture.

No need to panic

We laughed about accidentally picking up one another’s luggage, but as their bags came off the conveyor first, we said our goodbyes and wished them well. Box after box of cargo came round on the conveyor. Electrical fans, instant noodles, crates of Milo, a mini-fridge, you name it. It was comical to see the sorts of things that the Indonesians were collecting off the belt. There were barely any suitcases or luggage. It was quite the culture shock for us!

Eventually Nicks bag came through. Still no sign of mine. We waited and waited, and gradually the other passengers started to disperse. The conveyor came to an abrupt stop, as did my heart. Had Lion Air lost my bag? Trying not to panic (Obviously I was in full panic mode by this stage) I stuck my head through the carousel opening, hoping to spot my big red Osprey bag. There was nothing, and nobody in sight.

Lion Air customer service

Lion Air customer service office Manado airport Sam Ratulangi
Indonesian Airlines: On par, if not worse than the London Underground

We looked for assistance, and were pointed in the direction of the Lion Air customer service office. The shabby outside didn’t fill us with much confidence, but the interior was far worse. It was a dingy space was packed floor to ceiling with old paperwork, suitcases and cargo. There were a couple of young guys sat round an ancient computer, smoking and chatting between themselves.

We desperately tried to communicate the problem, but there was a lot of confusion due to the language barrier. I tried explaining how important my bag was. It had a lot of stuff that would be very difficult if not impossible to replace in Manado. Our scuba fins, booties and masks, malaria tablets, clothing, just before travelling we had laser eye surgery and all our eye drops and aftercare were in that bag. We had to find it!

The assistants didn’t seem to be taking our situation seriously and just kept looking at one another and giggling. It felt as though they were laughing us. A supervisor who spoke some English, finally arrived in the office. He asked us to fill out a form, and said it might take a few days to investigate the situation. If they couldn’t locate my bag, then the likelihood was that it had been stolen. I did not like the sound of this at all.

The whole Lion Air team helping us

Lion Air customer service Manado
Language barrier: Our lack of Bahasa didn’t help the situation

My mind was racing. What if somebody had stolen my bag off of the conveyor? There is so little security at Manado airport, literally anyone could walk into the lobby right off of the street. Or was it still in Komodo? We’d had so many transfers en route, it could literally be anywhere in Indonesia, in a way I wouldn’t be surprised if Lion Air lost my bag!

Nick and I both tried to keep our cool, but in reality we weren’t willing to accept the situation. Putting our fate in their hands just didn’t seem like the right thing to do, we simply did not trust in Lion Air. It was nearly 10pm and we were due to catch the boat to Bunaken Island in the morning. There was no way I wanted to leave that airport without my backpack. We begged the staff to help.

After a few frustrated tears, eventually the supervisor suggested that they send round a quick WhatsApp message to other Lion Air ground staff across the network in Indonesia – starting with Labuan Bajo, Denpassar and Surabaya. The three airports we had passed through. It was quite the task trying to explain what my bag looked like, even though it is exactly the same as Nicks, except it’s red. We were definitely brushing up on our sign language!

Messages started coming through. Someone at Makassar sent a photo of a red rucksack they’d found, but it wasn’t mine. Denpasar confirmed that they didn’t have it and Labuan Bajo was now closed, so we’d have to wait until the morning to hear back from them. Although this wasn’t the news we wanted, at least we were getting some answers. It was clear that there was not really much more we could do. The situation was out of our hands, so we may as well go and get a good nights sleep, and come back the next day. We exchanged numbers with the staff who promised to keep us posted with any news overnight.

Leaving the airport without any of my stuff

I sat silently in the taxi on the way to our hotel, tears absolutely rolling down my face. How could this be happening after only 2 weeks on the road? At check in, I hid my face, feeling guilty for looking so miserable. We were meant to be on the trip of a lifetime!

Out the corner of my eye, I noticed two familiar faces sitting on the sofa in the reception area. It was a Spanish couple who were on the Komodo National Park boat tour with us. They’d witnessed my last meltdown after the disastrous snorkel at Pink Beach (how embarrassing!) and here I was again looking upset and stressed after finding out Lion Air lost my bag. They must think I’m such a disaster.

All my hard-earned belongings gone

Losing your luggage is one of those things you always hear of, but never imagine it happening to you personally. Sitting in that strange Lion Air office, in an overwhelmingly foreign country, made me feel so vulnerable, and very far away from home.

My bag was a labour of love that we’d spent the best part of a year piecing together. All the hours of research for the correct equipment, clothing, toiletries and medications had been so carefully planned. I’d barely even used my Avanti Quattros fins, which had been imported from Italy. How would I manage without these, especially as we were about to embark on a serious snorkelling trip?

These belongings were to be my life for the next few months, they were my home on the road. The thought of being stripped of that was terrifying. Nick reassured me, stressing that we shouldn’t let this ruin our trip. We could claim some of the value back on the insurance and ‘re-buy everything’ if it really had gone for good.

But where on earth would I find another bar of Lush solid shampoo, let alone a pair of waterproof Birkenstocks. And what about our 3 month supply of malaria tablets for Raja Ampat. I had flicked through the Lion Air in-flight shopping magazine, it was clear that Indonesia wasn’t exactly at the top of the fashion stakes. There was no way I’d be able to replace all my lovely bikinis like for like in Manado.

Despite Nicks reassurance, I didn’t know how I could carry on with the trip if my bag was gone for good. It made me question whether or not I was cut out for this adventure at all. I felt like turning back and going home to London.

Had Lion Air lost my bag?

That evening I was glued to my phone, praying for news. At around midnight we got a message from one of the guys at the office saying a friend had found a red bag… It was mine. Words cannot describe the wave of relief that flooded me.

Lion Air found my lost bag
All is forgiven: The WhatsApp message that melted my heart. Oh, and a picture of my bag in Lombok without me

Although we were disappointed by the initial lack of care from the Lion Air staff, I couldn’t fault their efforts for continuing to work on finding my bag. I received such a lovely message from the guy who located it in the end. His compassion really touched me and I was overcome with appreciation for all his efforts.

Lion Air offered to send my bag directly to our hotel, but I didn’t want to take anymore chances so we opted to collect in person. The Lombok flight containing my lost bag was due to arrive early the next day. There was still a chance we could make the ferry to Bunaken Island!

Arriving back at Manado Airport, we were the first ones at the conveyor belt, and positioned ourselves right at the front. The usual chaos ensued, as we watched again in bemusement at all the cargo being unloaded. This time there was a band collecting around 20 traditional drums from the carousel. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Yet, still no sign of my bag. As if the previous nights events were repeating themselves, the conveyor came to a halt. I felt sick with nerves. We waited. From behind the plastic shielding the loading bay, a man threw out one last bag. It was mine. I was so overwhelmed I burst into tears.

My bag went backpacking

Bunaken public ferry backpacking
Reunited: Tired but happy, me and my bags arriving into Bunaken Island, North Sulawesi

On closer inspection, it appeared that my bag had been on quite the adventure! It was covered in scuffs, and had a hole at the base. This is what I imagined my bag to look like in 6 months time, not after two weeks! But the main thing was I had it back, and we could resume our travels.  We literally ran out of the airport to grab a taxi to Manado Harbour, to catch the public ferry to Bunaken. What a whirlwind 12 hours.

I still struggle to understand how Lion Air lost my bag, and why it ended up in Lombok.   We think it must have happened at Labuan Bajo, due to all the issues at check-in. Although this experience was quite the ordeal, it hasn’t put us off using budget Indonesian Airlines yet. They are cheap, and by far the quickest way to get around this sprawling country.

Our advise to travellers flying in Indonesia:

Although these definitely won’t guarantee the safety of your luggage, these simple steps and expectations will hopefully give you some peace of mind.

  1. Always check that the correct airport code for your destination has been printed onto your luggage tag (e.g. DPS for Denpasar).
  2. Ask for a receipt with a reference number – Many airlines do this, but its certainly not guaranteed. At least you’ll have some form of evidence, in case your precious luggage goes missing. This care should be taken when flying with any airline, but Indonesian airlines especially!
  3. If your flight includes a connection, be sure to ask whether your bags will go directly to your final destination. Just in case you need to re-check them at a connecting airport.
  4. Where you are going may not be the flights final destination. Indonesian airlines have a habit of adding connections without telling you, and this may not be clear when you book your ticket. Expect that you might need to disembark the plane at a connecting airport, to go through security again, and then re-board your flight.

Have you ever had any disasterous experiences with your luggage on the road? We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!

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