Beth Gill's husband and daughter were told to check their cabin luggage for a flight in mid-June.
After their connecting flight was canceled, the family slept on window ledges at Charlotte's airport.
They took a train home but had to leave without their luggage. Her daughter's bag is still missing.
An American Airlines passenger told Insider that her daughter still hadn't gotten back her carry-on luggage two months after she had to check it on a flight to North Carolina from Arizona.
"We purposely packed carry-on bags because I didn't want to have to worry about going through baggage claims and having to get our luggage," Beth Gill said, echoing sentiments shared with Insider by other travelers.
Gill, her husband, and two daughters went in June on a two-week vacation in Las Vegas and were set to fly from Phoenix to Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 16 with a connection to Raleigh, North Carolina.
On the first leg of the flight, which was delayed, American Airlines told her husband and their 11-year-old daughter they needed to check their carry-on bags because there was no room in the overhead compartments, she said. Gill said there was space in the compartments at the back of the plane.
"My husband was like, 'This is ridiculous. They're going to lose our luggage,'" Gill said. "He just had a feeling about it."
Charlotte Douglas International Airport was in disarray when the family arrived, she said, with passengers running to catch flights and "people everywhere."
After a number of delays because of a lack of flight crew, American Airlines finally canceled the flight from Charlotte to Raleigh at 1:30 a.m. on Friday morning, about 2 1/2 hours after it was supposed to depart, Gill said.
She said she was told the next available flight to Raleigh — about 160 miles by road from Charlotte — was on Sunday evening. The family wasn't offered lodging or a rental car because neither was available, Gill told Insider.
She said she was unable to find a hotel for her family and they resorted to sleeping in the airport.
Gill said she and her family slept on window ledges with beach blankets over them, using backpacks as pillows. Her husband went down to baggage claim to collect their luggage on the advice of staff, but when he got there, he was told that there was nobody working at the time who could unload the plane, Gill said.
Her husband was told that baggage claim counted as outside the airport, which meant he wasn't allowed back into the terminal to join his family, Gill said.
Instead of waiting until the flight on Sunday evening, the Gill family caught an early-morning train to Raleigh on Friday. The tickets came out to $94.50, a booking confirmation viewed by Insider showed. She also spent about $85 on Uber journeys to and from the train stations.
But there was a catch: Opting to travel by train, rather than waiting until the next available flight, meant that she couldn't collect the two carry-on bags that had been checked.
"We were told we couldn't pick our luggage up from baggage claim in Charlotte until 7 a.m.," Gill said. "We had to leave the airport without my daughter and husband's luggage."
Gill said American Airlines later told her that both bags had been scanned into the Raleigh airport.
She said her husband got his luggage back but that her daughter's, which had Gill's name and phone number written on it, still hadn't been returned, two months after her flight. She has been to the airport three times trying unsuccessfully to get help, she told Insider, adding that she didn't think the bag would ever be found.
Gill said the family hadn't received any compensation for the lost luggage but that the family did get $83 each for the canceled leg of their flight.
"Customer service has been nonexistent," she said.
American Airlines didn't respond to Insider's request for comment.
The airport in Raleigh told Insider that baggage is handled by airlines. The airport in Charlotte did not immediately responded to Insider's requests for comment, which were made outside usual business hours.
Airlines and airports are struggling to increase their staffing to meet soaring summer travel demand. Pandemic layoffs, strikes, and resignations mean that they don't have as many workers to carry out business as usual, leading to flight delays, cancellations, long lines at security, and lost luggage.
Passenger numbers at Charlotte — one of the busiest airports in the world — are back to pre-pandemic levels. In June, more than 4.3 million passengers flew to and from the airport, about 40,000 more than during the same month in 2019.
Have you been affected by current travel disruptions? Or do you work at an airport or for an airline that's swamped by staffing and cancellation chaos? Email this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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