Travel Nightmare: Lost Luggage Got Tracked to Random Apartment Building

Credit: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Like many travelers last week, when Valerie Szybala returned home after the holidays, her luggage didn’t make it with her. However, through some impressive sleuthing, she was able to track it down — and shared the whole ordeal in a viral Twitter thread.

On December 28, 2022, Szybala landed on a United Airlines flight in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan Airport after a month-long overseas trip. But her luggage was delayed, and she accepted the airline's offer to have it delivered to her home by a third party. That’s where her story seemingly took a strange turn.

Szybala had placed an Apple AirTag inside the luggage, so she began tracking it. According to the images in her tweets, her luggage arrived safely the next day, December 29, but whoever was in possession of it seemed to be in no hurry to return it to her. Instead, it appeared her luggage was at an apartment building and even took trips to a shopping mall in the suburbs and a McDonald’s.

In screenshots of conversations with United’s customer service, Szybala asked why her bag was at the apartment complex instead of at the courier’s distribution center. “Calm down your bag is at the delivery service,” the representative responded.

Szybala took matters into her own hands and went to the apartment building. To her surprise, she discovered 2 other bags with United tags — both empty and placed near the dumpsters.

She continued to make trips to the apartment in hopes of finding her luggage and began documenting the entire saga on Twitter. Her thread got more than 2 million views and the attention of a local news crew, who made a trip to the complex with her. On her fourth trip, 4 days after her bag got to D.C., Szybala finally received a text from a courier informing her they had her bag.

The courier arrived at the complex in an unmarked car, claiming the multi-day delay was due to her bag being mistakenly delivered to the wrong address in the Virginia suburbs — a statement that Szybala says doesn’t gel with her tracking data. Despite it all, the contents of her luggage seem to have remained safely intact.

“I think United needs to answer for these practices," she told CNN. "Is it standard practice that people can take passengers' bags home with them? I feel like they owe me an explanation. I don't think I'd have got it back if I didn't have the Airtag, if I didn't post a viral tweet or get media attention.”

“The service our baggage delivery vendor provided does not meet our standards and we are investigating what happened to lead to this service failure,” United Airlines said in a statement to CNN.

Having been put through this entire ordeal, Szybala now has some advice for travelers looking to avoid a similar situation: Take a photo of your bag’s contents and never accept an offer to have your bag delivered to you — always go back to the airport to pick it up.