Careless KLM ruined our honeymoon

Long haul misery: a hefty price tag for an airline ticket brings no guarantee that your luggage will arrive intact - or at all
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The Independent Online

It seemed the most romantic (and practical) way to get away for our honeymoon. Chuck off the wedding dress and DJ when the party ended at midnight, and grab a taxi straight for the airport with our bags ready packed.

It seemed the most romantic (and practical) way to get away for our honeymoon. Chuck off the wedding dress and DJ when the party ended at midnight, and grab a taxi straight for the airport with our bags ready packed.

My wife Melanie Powell and I were off to Venezuela for the adventure of a lifetime, travelling to the pinnacles of the Andes, traversing Conan Doyle's "Lost World" and heading by canoe into the jungle of the Orinoco Delta. So we were bleary-eyed but excited when we waited at the luggage carousel at Caracas airport after our 13-hour flight with the Dutch airline KLM from Stansted, via Amsterdam.

My heart fell when my bag came off first. The top was flapping open, the lock had been wrenched off and my tropical clothing had been stolen (including, bizarrely, my underpants). We waited for the other bag, until that awful moment when a single cardboard box was left on the carousel unclaimed, and I realised that our luggage was not going to come.

The sole Venezuelan official in the arrivals hall was surrounded by a remonstrating crowd. We waited patiently to record the loss, and after much filling in of forms (Venezuelans thrive on paperwork) he flourished a telex to say that it had already been known when the plane took off that the baggage had not been loaded at Amsterdam. "But why didn't they tell us?" A shrug. "Go to the KLM offices."

Two hours had passed by the time we reached the KLM office, which was closed and deserted. A man pushing a mop volunteers: "They always take a break after the plane comes in." It is another hour before they return. We are grudgingly given $100 (£68) to buy some clothes (a paltry amount since the Venezuela cost of living is the same as the UK's). They tell us there will be no luggage tomorrow since KLM do not have a flight. "So when will we get it?" No idea.

There is a bigger problem still, since since we were booked to fly at 7.30 the next morning to Merida, the capital of the Andes, which is 400 miles away. My wife has just the cardigan, T-shirt, trousers, socks and knickers she was wearing. This is just about bearable for tropical Caracas, but we had planned to ascend 16,000 ft to the snowline at the top of Pico Espejo, one of the country's highest mountains.

We try hunting for clothes, but this is a country minus Gap, M&S or Next, and Merida's few stores are consumed in the kind of pre-Christmas scrimmage we have come to get away from. We emerge from the fray with a single item - a pair of knickers which might have been rococo enough for Eva Peron's honeymoon, but not quite right for us. So we brave the cold and make endless expensive calls hunting down the luggage.

By the fourth day, we are miserable and consider abandoning the trip altogether. We are due to fly 800 miles to the "Lost World" on the Brazilian border. It is humid, sweaty, insect-ridden and rocky. It just cannot be done without the right gear. Then we are saved - not by KLM but by the kindness of the travel agent who booked our air tickets in Caracas. He has driven to the airport to retrieve at least my wife's luggage, but not my stolen items. So back again to Caracas to be reunited with the bag - five days on.

We carry on. Though I am forced to sweat in my London clothes, it is better to be too hot than freezing. I also know that airlines have very little responsibility in law to people whose luggage they lose. (Even Victoria Beckham had a tussle getting compensation when her bags went missing on a BA flight from Heathrow to Manchester.) But I, naively as it turns out, think that KLM might at least give us an upgrade on the way home

We make yet more expensive calls to KLM from the jungle and savannah, from airports and bus stations. First to the KLM office in Caracas, who eventually tell us that it was not within their power to give us an upgrade, but they'll note my call on the computer. We will, they say, have to ring London.

Eventually I get through to somebody who says he hasn't the authority either - "it's up to Caracas" - At this point, with the bolivars clocking up by the tens of thousands, I give up.

At the airport check-in for the flight home, the reaction is predictable. "Upgrade? Sorry, don't understand? Don't know." Now I get cross, and insist on seeing a manager before getting on the flight. I am ushered into the same office outside which we waited an hour on our first day. Eventually someone finds a file on a computer which they print off. As far as I can see, it details the saga of our lost luggage and ends with the words: "Upgrade denied by London."

No point in fighting here, since no Venezuelan minor official will defy "authority". I think I have a better chance on the plane. Standing at the entrance to Business Class is a stentorian-looking woman with a Dutch name badge, stating that she is the flight purser.

I adopt an emollient manner explaining that it would be a kind gesture to allow us to have a better seat in order to sleep on the packed plane. It would be a small compensation for the problems KLM had created for us. She listens carefully, and then draws herself up to full height with a look that combines pity and horror. "You should realise," she declares grandly, "there are people willing to pay good guilders for these seats..."

We crawl back to our allocated seats in economy near the toilets at the back of the plane. It is a turbulent flight for most of the night and any chance of sleep is ruined by the stewards rushing to and fro with sick bags.

The airline has since faxed a statement apologising, and admitting that they have problems with luggage handling at Schipol airport in Amsterdam "which are continuing". Sadly this is all too late for me and my new wife. Thanks for the honeymoon, KLM.