Andrea Zelinski
Andrea Zelinski

ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN PRIMA - Something was missing when two executives and their wives arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the inaugural sailing of the Norwegian Prima last week.

The luggage.

As a slew of troubles with lost bags, not to mention delayed and canceled flights, dog the airlines and create havoc for travel agents, cruise lines are in a unique position to try to reunite guests with their belongings during their cruise: Since a cruise's departure is fixed, there's a finite window of time in which to unite suitcases with passengers and passengers with ships before logistical challenges grow and guest satisfaction drops.

What has been coined the "summer of lost luggage" was "one thing we didn't see coming," said Harry Sommer, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. "It never occurred to us."

Amid a surge in travel demand and short-staffed airports, lost luggage claims spiked by 30% this year compared to prepandemic times, according to Mapfre, a Spanish insurer.

When NCL charted the challenges it would face this sailing season, chasing down guests' lost bags wasn't one of them, Sommer said this weekend during the inaugural sailing of the Norwegian Prima.

But navigating flight and luggage issues proved to be a major challenge for the brand, prompting it to grow its air team from about 30 people to a staff of 150 to handle the disruptions.

Several cruise lines have also boosted the size of their travel services teams to handle guests' flight delays, cancellations and lost bags, including Holland America Line and Seabourn. Meanwhile, lines like Princess Cruises have encouraged guests to book with their air programs and encouraged guests to arrive a day early to minimize the impact of airport meltdowns and buy them more time.

Cruise line work with airlines to scoot those pieces of luggage to locations further along in the cruise itinerary, Sommer said. But depending where the luggage is and the timing, getting a bag back to its owner doesn't always work well, he said.

Sommer said airline executives have assured him the troubles will ease after the summer travel season is over, as they plan to realign their schedules in late September or early October to minimize further disruptions. 

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