Reader Arrested at Paris Airport After Trying to Check Ikea Luggage

Andrew shares a pretty crazy story about trying to fly from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Seattle in Delta’s business class that he booked with Alaska Airlines miles.

He had some real bad luck on the trip. His rental car was broken into in the south of France and his family’s luggage was stolen. He needed new bags and he went to Ikea.

    Credit: Ikea

He couldn’t check in using the Delta app and assumed it “was related to our service animals” and showed up at the airport 3 hours prior to departure to ensure he had time to deal with it.

He had a long wait in the Sky Priority line and a woman manning the queue approached him and let him know they wouldn’t accept his Ikea bags as checked luggage.

She approached us and pointed to our IKEA bags and said we can’t fly with these. No explanation, no solution, no help, she didn’t offer us to go to the wrapping station first, she didn’t listen to our arguments that we lost our bags. Just point blank NO.

And she also threatened us: “You’ll see that you’re not flying today!” Apparently, she went around all check in stands in the SkyPriority and warn every agent not to accept our bags — just because she didn’t like them.

Copyright: idealphotographer

When he made it to the front of the line he was asked the series of questions for US-bound passengers. When I was in Paris this year I was asked what I did while I was away, what I do for a living, and a number of other specifics about myself and my journey.

The problem with his reservation turned out not to be anything about service animals, but that his reservation managed to become unassociated with his ticket. He was sent to the ticketing desk, who told him to call Alaska Airlines, and eventually everyone figured out that the ticket number on his confirmation email just needed to be entered into his booking. He was sent back to the check-in desk for boarding passes.

At this point there was no problem getting him checked in but they wouldn’t accept his Ikea bags as luggage citing Delta policy.

“This is Delta’s policy,” they say. ..“You have to find a solution.”

“You have 3 more minutes to find the solution or the flight will be closed.”

…“You should go and buy new luggage.”

…“Our plastic bags are for strollers only,”

…“You can go and wrap your bags in plastic at the wrapping station”

Along the way he filmed several of his interactions with staff.

Andrew had his bags wrapped, and while completing that task he says he was “surrounded by those “security” guys who were demanding to remove all video footage from my phone. Yes, all videos or else they won’t let us fly today.”

He says he removed all videos but obviously since he posted some to YouTube that’s not completely accurate (there are 3 more in addition to the two above). An agent informed him he wouldn’t be flying.

He wanted names of staff and they wouldn’t give them, so he took a photo of an employee badge one was wearing. That’s when he was “arrest[ed]..and take[n] to the Police Nationale office.”

Police searched his phone and deleted some content, and let him go when he agreed to leave the terminal.

Eventually Alaska Airlines found him alternate flights home and refunded some miles as a customer service gesture.

If you read the whole story there seems to be a lot of extraneous detail to work through, and he keeps referring to an unhelpful “black woman in red jacket” which I cringe at.

However I share this story as a reminder that:

  • your rights aren’t the same abroad as in the United States
  • even if you feel you’re right you sometimes face a choice of vindicating your position and getting what you need from the person you’re arguing with
  • being confrontational with bureaucrats isn’t nearly as effective as being kind and generating sympathy which may yield help instead of pushback.

Customer service doesn’t seem great here though we only see part of the interaction and Andrew does seem belligerent with agents. The e-ticket issue is rare though it happens, I nearly missed a Cathay Dragon flight out of Siem Reap when they couldn’t find my ticket even though Cathay Pacific itself had no such problem days earlier.

Ultimately the problem was that the agents wouldn’t accept an Ikea bag. They wanted him to wrap the bag. Security is likely to rip open the wrapping, but that’s fine, at that point agents would have already accepted the luggage.

My ultimate advice is to deal with the most pressing issue at the moment — fighting agents when what you need is check-in isn’t going to be your best strategy — and then complaining or vindicating yourself after you’ve traveled when there’s little risk.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve flown in and out of the US with IKEA wrapped luggage (heck, I even used a plain tarp at one point) and nobody gave and f. TSA is actually pretty well equipped to handle that, they got sharp object to tear through it and tape to fix it afterwards.

  2. Seems fairly typical these days. At US airports people are threatened and denied boarding equally arbitrarily (we will skip the beatings). At major European airports Asian and African travelers encounter such harassment routinely.

    Anyway, I am not sure that “black woman in red jacket” is particularly cringeworthy. Appears to be a straightforward description without any other innuendos,

  3. At least he got French employees who cared (one way or another). Most of my trips through CDG have seen more than a few airline and airport employees who could not be bother to either help or hurt a traveller. Sometimes they even just walk away after you ask them something.

  4. I’m with @AKTCHI – “black woman in red jacket” is an innocuous description, why would it make you cringe?

  5. You cringe at hearing “black woman in red jacket?” Are you including this article with your CNN app?

  6. In other words europeans don’t put up with your bs as the lawyers are not hovering over them like here in the US

  7. Obviously someone who believes their luggage is safe when locked in a car would also think that pointing out the “unhelpful” non-white employee is somehow going to earn him extra sympathy.

    As for the readers thinking it’s no big deal unnecessarily drawing attention to a person’s race, “people of color” are also calling you stupid white guys.

  8. This complainant completely undermines his own credibility by not reporting, or allowing the airline to report, their complaint with his luggage The whole point of a credible, legitimate complaint is that both sides’ views are laid out bare, for all to see. This case could be as simple as the complainant having ineligible bags. Simple solution, make them eligible or get new ones.

    BTW: I am not the ‘andrew’ who is the complainant in this case and will post here under some other name in future.

  9. Ya, I’m not sure how else you are supposed to describe the black woman in the red jacket….Maybe refer to her as an “African-Frenchmerican?”

  10. How much stuff could they have had if their luggage was stolen? Also, why do they have multiple “service” animals?

  11. I’m with @smitty06 on this. Has anyone ever heard of a family with multiple “service” animals? Presumably not, which would make it likely that these people are self-important scammers.

  12. “Service animals”? Plural? Does their service dog have its own emotional support ferret or something?

  13. CDG contract staff is crazy. Recently got SSSS for the entire family (including 3yrs old) from one of these so-called “security” agents who reach out to you in the middle of the queue and start asking stupid questions without even introducing themselves – just because she didn’t like us and could do so.

  14. “Cringe” about what? The black woman, the white woman? Strange comment to make this whole story even more strange. My guess is that this person was hars to deal with, had bad ticket problems and questionable luggage. They happen to run into the wrong people who didnt care to help after they had him arrested.

  15. Well you have to follow rules Americans think They can go I n people county’s and so as they like

  16. The problem that I have with the reader’s description of the Air France supervisor as the “old, Black woman in the red coat” is that, in the videos, all of the female Air France staff are wearing black coats. The reader could have simply said “the woman in the red coat” to identify who he was referring to. But he said the “old, Black woman in the red coat” like there were multiple women in red coats of various races and ages. Clearly, the reader thought it was important to establish the fact that the woman was “old” and the fact the she was “Black.” The question is why he thought it was important. One can surmise about the stereotypes the reader associates with those terms.

  17. It’s upsetting to have your luggage stolen but why not just purchase another suitcase or two? Call me silly for stating the obvious. The bag pictured is up for questioning at any airport, domestic or international.

  18. Good point, hence the expression that it’s easier to catch flies with honey instead of vinegar. That guy seems to have a bad, entitled attitude and probably a lot of bad encounters. Why do people think they can just point a camera in your face and expect you not to react? Videotaping someone during a minor confrontation sounds like a passive aggressive way to escalate things. Also, he was able to call one of the employees chief bag officer or something of the sort so *repeatedly* calling the agent in red “old black lady” definitely reflects poorly on his character. He also mentions that the agents couldn’t speak English well enough … Ha! That’s a funny thing to say when you’re in some else’s country.

  19. @ john +1

    Several folks find the “old” or “black” words to be innocuous, but the flier doesn’t distinguish between the other agents as white or young/middle aged or whatever, despite most of them wearing outfits of the same color.

    Essentially, he identified the race and age for only one person, which implies he found them noteworthy. Why not the others? Something to consider if one is willing.

  20. Keeping your head down usually provides the best results when dealing with airport staff, especially internationally. Beligerence rarely gets you what you want, anywhere.

  21. Typical CDG. French service is terrible – French airport agents are rude, entitled, and unhelpful. And I speak from experience – I am living in Paris.

  22. Luckily he was in Sky Priority class, or else things could have gone South.
    At least Alaska Airlines did their part to make things right. Would it have helped to have a 20th century paper ticket? Considering all of the chances for a computer glitch between Alaska, Delta, etc, it looks like that may be a good backup plan.
    Capital One may want to do a What’s in your wallet commercial after an airline customer is told No, Nada, and Nope while trying to check in using a competing airlines frequent flier miles to obtain the ticket, at a foreign airport, and checking flimsy luggage.
    As for the Delta agent, I have run into my share of good ones.

  23. But let’s just keep the bottom line of airline customer relations in mind.
    Travelers are Trash.

  24. I have had multiple flights this year with Delta code shares on Air France or vice versa, there is some kind of IT problem similar to what the OP describes with his Alaska ticket and it appears to be widespread and nobody can/will fix it.

  25. @Chancer – So by your logic it’s acceptable to call white people non-black people? Come on now… Just call white people white people and black people black people. It’s simple.

  26. I travel monthly on Air France but buy ticket from Delta. Fly route Miami -CD G. I agree if you treat people with respect you will have a better chance of getting your problem fixed. Flying today is stressful, patience is required. Leave yourself lots of time at the airport. Better to have time for a coffee and read a book than worry about missing your flight due to a problem at the airport. When the airlines say arrive 3 hours before trimester to the airlines.

  27. @AKTCHI I’m with you, although not all are like that, there’re still nice people out there. Was once being escorted by ground staff in AMS airport, she helped me cut through security line, but somehow was being stopped by one immigration officer, he yelled at us as we can’t just cut through the line like that, embarrassed… but in the end she still manage to cut me through another line, when a nice airport staff told her not to worry, she let us use the EU/Diplomatic line instead.

  28. Horrible experience, and on paid business class as well. I like AF’s seat, lounges and F&B, but since the major strike several years ago, their service has gone down hill, and on top of that, they are generally charging more than UA, LH or BA and I never seem to find upgrade space at booking, so I have been flying them less. I’m not sure what their business strategy is, but they don’t really seem to be competing any more.

    I am curious about the ticket issue. I don’t trust airline partners to communicate seamlessly. Generally, with multiple legs on different airlines, I try to go to each airline’s website a day or so after purchase and try to pull up my reservation to see if it has any issues. I wonder if he had done that and it still got messed up. Could there have been an itinerary change by the airlines that delinked the ticket?

  29. Alaska is ultimately the one who compensates the passenger for a problem caused by others. Another example of why Alaska is great.

  30. @ Andrew . . . one word that would have made this a pleasurable trip for all. KENNEL! If you can rent a car and drive in Paris then you can travel without your “service animals.” You may have to help each other get though the traumatic experience of a vacation, but if you got back to CDG, I’m confident you can do it.

  31. Gary, once again thank you for bringing attention to my story. I hope it would serve as reminder that everyone need a strong partner holding their back — in this case without backing from Alaska I would be stranded in the airport. Also, if an airline employee is promising you something (in my case she promised to take our bags after we wrap them in plastic) it doesn’t really mean anything.

    Now I would like to take a moment and clarify some of the questions.

    “Old black woman in red jacket” — I would love to put her name in instead of the description, but they all were proactively hiding their badges and refused to disclose their names. Not sure why.

    @Gene — I once checked in literally a garbage bag, so 1:0 for US airlines! ))) Also, American didn’t have issues with IKEA bags at all.

    @Anne — nope ))

    @Mike — yes, there’s no accountability in France.

    @chancer — obviously, you’re wrong on all accounts.

    @andrew — I think I disclosed clearly that the airline couldn’t articulate the issue with these bags or why it’s inferior to other bags.

    @smitty06 — not much, we have 2 animals, one per each person.

    @Thought Leader — like the nickname!

    @Christian — thank you for the compliment!

    @Danny — that desk is operated by AirFrance, not Delta.

    @gavinmac — no, just 2 people with 2 different issues.

    @Alex — exactly my point, they just didn’t like us and no reasoning could convince them otherwise.

    @john — yes, there were several people of different races in different color jackets. And yes, I thought it was important to specifically describe whose behavior I was referring to. It would be her name instead of description, would’ve she introduced herself.

    @Susan — everything is more expensive in France.

    @Monica — I think you’re shifting the focus of this story. I don’t think the issue is with my character but with AirFrance direct promise to take our bags after wrapping and then denying us flying right after that. I think airline employees should honor their promises, regardless of passenger’s character?

    @Jig — because she had the worst behavior of everyone, went around blaming us for the issue and went tried to tear boarding passes out of my hand. Her behavior I find most appalling.

    @Etienne — agree.

    @Leef33 — yes, exactly my point, thank you!

    @Michael Upton — 😀

    @David — yes, this is an issue. I want to warn everyone to keep your e-ticket number close.

    @Marcia Stauber — alas, in our case that didn’t work. As you can see, she promised to take our bags after wrapping them in plastic and then just didn’t deliver. It’s about broken promises.

    @Arthur — yes, I made a change in the itinerary about 6 months ago. Alaska email contained both old and new e-ticket number. Unfortunately, first agent didn’t notice them and I didn’t understand him enough to show it.

    @Bhindar — not sure I get how a kennel would’ve helped IKEA.

    Thank you!

  32. I must say when you travel to any foreign country, you mush me aware of the local lays and must keep you updated all the time. Now I am really wandering why he is asked to remove all the videos from his mobile. May be these videos are a concern for a national security? And why everyone is blaming the guards, I are just doing their duties.


  33. The guards were just doing their duty. I think rushing on them is wrong they have to take the necessary measurements in order to stop any bad incident from happening.

  34. It is a bias to label black woman in red jacket as cringe. It is a fact. This is why US has become complete mess.

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