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A LIFETIME OF BAGGAGE

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

By Jamie Shedden


The Boat Train Has Arrived


After 37 with Air New Zealand, you would think that Jamie Shedden would know all there was to know about airline baggage. However, Jamie’s first experience with passenger baggage came about when he was an assistant purser with Shaw Savill


According to Jamie – When I joined Shaw Savill in 1967 as an assistant Purser, one of the many jobs of the Purser was to “wear” the baggage tracing hat! While working on immigrant liners, Southern Cross and Northern Star.


ARAWA

Built as Arlanza in 1960 she was transferred from the Royal Mail Line in 1969 and renamed Arawa, she was the fourth ship to be named Arawa. In 1971 she was sold to Norway for conversion to a car carrier, renamed Hoegh Transit.


In 1970 I was working on The Arawa, she was a cargo-passenger liner, carrying about 450 passengers, we usually had up to one hundred round the world voyagers.


Jamie with his parents on Arawa


My parents joined me for Dad's retirement vacation, a trip around the world lasting 104 days, with 3 weeks on the New Zealand coast whilst the ship loaded frozen lamb for the UK. This gave the passengers the opportunity to have 3 weeks on the NZ coast to visit family and friends or just sightsee, a great attraction for voyagers.

The perfect holiday.


We were scheduled to leave Royal Docks, London on 1st October, but due to a dockers strike, we sailed at the end of September to Southampton, in order to sail on time as per schedule. All passengers were notified in time, not sure why baggage firms were not notified.


My parents were so excited, I was dreading having them on board keeping an eye on my drinking habits lol, they were booked in a C-deck cabin, but on embarkation, they were upgraded to a suite on A deck.




Jamie Shedden - Assistant Purser

With a glass in hand.



The first challenge at the Pursers Office after we sailed from Southampton, was a very upset couple, Mr & Mrs Crowther, from Blackpool, who like my parents had joined the ship for a lifetime experience of a round the world voyage. None of their baggage had been delivered to their suite on A deck.


The A Ships, Arawa, Akaroa and Aranda, had been Royal Mail, 3 class ships, Arlanza, Amazon and Aragon, when Shaw Savill took them over in 68/69 they became one class tourist ships, but of course, the original first-class suites on A and B decks were superior cabins at premium fare for Round Voyage passengers.



Usual patter, “Don't worry your bags are on the ship, may have been delivered to the wrong cabin, we will check and have them delivered to your cabin as soon as possible”. We had sailed beyond the Solent, with the Isle of Wight well astern of us, and some hours after sailing, the Crowthers, panic-stricken returned to the office, and I was given the unenvious task of finding all their baggage, they only had the hand baggage they carried on to the ship, with 10 days ahead to the first port at Barbados!


At this stage the Purser’s staff advertised in the daily programme for anyone with surplus clothing or toiletries to offer to the Crowthers, the ships shop did carry t’s and shorts but not sufficient to outfit two passengers for 10 days. Many passengers rallied around and offered evening wear to them, daytime wear was adequately covered.

A Shaw Savill 6 Berth Cabin - Imagine baggage for 6 passengers in this cabin


With some 6 or 4-berth cabins onboard it was a mammoth task to identify bags with owners, as these multi-berth cabin occupants would not know the names of other cabin companions. Sometimes we had to advertise in the daily newspaper of events on board, for any cabin which may have a surplus bag and eventually find the missing one or in some cases several, as occasionally happened.


Very long story short, my investigations found that the Crowther’s courier company took the bags to the Royal Docks, no ship, Arawa had already departed for Southampton, so the bags were taken back to the base company in Blackpool.


No emails, no cellphones and only a radio telephone to communicate with everything! Next problem was arranging for bags to be air freighted from Manchester to Barbados, which in 1970 was not an easy task either as no direct air services. As soon as the ship docked in Barbados, I personally, with the assistance of the local agents, made my way to the rather primitive airport to secure 3 suitcases and a trunk, and transfer them to Arawa.


Of Course, this was not my first experience with lost baggage, as this happened often in the days of Southern Cross and Northern Star, but the Arawa incident was the first serious problem to face with all baggage missing.


Air New Zealand Logo - 1973


I left Shaw Savill’s Northern Star in May 1973, and migrated to New Zealand, by air, in July, the last leg of my trip from Glasgow, was on an Air New Zealand DC10 from Singapore to Auckland, fortunately, all my personal baggage arrived with me.


Within 5 months of leaving the UK, I secured a good job in passenger services with Air New Zealand, at Auckland International Airport. Previous experience, being a Purser on Passenger Liners, well suited the position I had applied for with the airline. Trained in all departments including check-in, concourse duties, loading and ground service control.



I was introduced to BTU (Baggage Tracing Unit) in 1975, two years after I joined traffic at Auckland International Airport, when International and Domestic operated out the same Terminal, but by 1979, the new Mangere International Terminal opened, and I was in charge of the BTU office, with only 2 officers to cover our daily schedules.


I recall, shortly after the terminal opened having baggage teething problems and with bags everywhere (much like is happening now in Auckland, Sydney, London and many other airports around the world). Told my boss I cannot cope on my own, to which the airport manager replied, Jamie from this day forth, you will have

Jamie in Retirement two staff in BTU, even if I have only one

at Check-in!


When I retired in 2010, each shift in BTU (now called Baggage Services) had 10 permanent staff on each of three shifts, plus casuals to assist in moving bags. Today, due to airline staff shortages, BTU has only 3 permanent staff on each shift plus casuals, Auckland has 700 unclaimed bags, phones are not manned and 2000 emails a day are ignored! This is called Progress.




More stories by Jamie


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