updates: the person who came across as timid, the lost bags, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. How can I stop coming across as quiet and timid?

I found all the suggestions really helpful and when I had my probation review at my new job, I didn’t receive any feedback about needing to speak up more or be louder (I did get points to work on but my communication style wasn’t one). In fact, I was recently asked to lead a project which means chairing weekly meetings and when I presented our initial progress to senior leadership this week, it went really well!

While all the advice was helpful, I think the biggest change has been a different work culture – I knew that agencies were fairly extroverted but hadn’t realised how much until I came somewhere different. There are definitely extroverts in my new job but there are also more people like me, which means I’m no longer the odd one out, and I think that in itself has made me feel and seem more comfortable. It’s also been great to have a very clearly defined role no one else does, making it easier to know when to speak in big meetings and to feel I have authority on my subject.

I’m definitely going to keep working on how I come across but it’s been so good to learn my problem wasn’t actually all about me!

2. Can I even take time off now? (#3 at the link)

I wrote in at the start of the pandemic, I was burnt out and wasn’t sure if it was OK for me to use some of my unlimited PTO since I’d clearly just spend it sitting at home.

Although I never did take a mental health day, the comments here helped me go easier on myself during a hard time, which was badly needed. I didn’t mention in my letter that I was 6 months pregnant with a baby who I’d just found out would be born with a scary medical condition, and we didn’t know how bad things would be. It was intensely stressful going through this during lockdown; the only times I left the house were to go for ultrasounds and testing that filled me with dread and left me feeling mentally and physically depleted for days after. Looking back, it’s obvious that I *needed* some time away from work, but I felt guilty asking for that when I knew I’d be taking maternity leave soon. I think my boss would have been fine with it, but for me it felt more like asking for a favor than something I was entitled to.

My baby had a rough first few months and his hospital stay exceeded my maternity leave, but my company was very understanding and gave me an extra few weeks so I could spend some time with him once he came home before returning to work. His first year was a roller coaster of surgeries but he is doing fantastic now!

Meanwhile, even though I felt indebted to my employer for their generosity during my son’s hospital stay, my dissatisfaction remained once I came back from leave. I’ve spent the last few months carefully applying for new positions, interviewed a lot of places and turned down several offers that didn’t feel quite right. I’m happy to say that in a couple weeks I’m starting a new role in the exact field I wanted at a higher salary than I ever thought I could command. The best part is that there is a lot more policy definition including set vacation time, so I think I’ll go back to actually using my time off! I’m so excited but also nervous. I made a miscalculation with my current job, but I also acknowledge I ignored many red flags before accepting that offer. This time I did my due diligence and followed AAM advice all the way through. I don’t expect this (or any) job to be perfect but I do think it will be better! And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years it’s that my mental health and the wellness of my family is more important to me than work will ever be.

3. Do I have to repay my employer for a refund on a reimbursed expense? (#4 at the link)

One thing I didn’t mention in the letter but did in the comments – I was on the accounting team and my manager is the controller for the company! But our company has very “we want to be cool” start up vibes, so I think the morally grey thing comes from the top down. To be clear, I also never submitted fake receipts for the wellness credit, but that remains a weird program because I heard someone got reimbursed in wellness dollars on an air fryer they bought. I took up golf instead so I got some golf lessons and equipment reimbursed. It’s just one of many disorganized and weird things at this company.

In this situation, I talked to our T&E coordinator/expert about what I should do and she told me not to bother worrying about it. It wasn’t worth the energy to try and recoup the money from my paycheck since it had already paid out, so I left it alone. Our HR is not the most competent and many people have had screwy paychecks (I once had my class reimbursement deducted on accident so I got a $90 paycheck the day before my mortgage auto-withdrew. That was a fun day while they scrambled to correct it), so T&E Expert thought it would cause more issues than anything. I passed the classes I was taking and then got promoted into a new role on the commercial finance side instead of accounting! New manager, but same batty company policies.

4. Airlines lost my bags on a work trip — can I ask my employer to reimburse me? (#3 at the link)

Remember voluntary airline travel?

I ended up checking with my university HR both regarding any potential travel insurance and if there was anything they could do about the situation. They confirmed that our travel insurance only covers health care issues, not lost items. And that they would not contact the airlines. I also checked out the websites that various commenters suggested, but none were able to help

It took months to even get the reimbursement the airline agreed to. Four different fax numbers they told me to submit receipts to did not work. I finally ended up having to send pictures of the receipts to a customer service representative through Twitter (I also sent him the fax pages demonstrating that all four of the numbers they’d given me didn’t work). They then sent a check for much less than they said they would. I asked why, and they claimed it was the value of the receipts. It was not; they had omitted 3 of the receipts. I showed them the math, and they eventually sent that money as well. The luggage never found its way back to me. I like to imagine it ended up at one of those lost luggage auctions, and someone ended up with a bizarre combination of t shirts and business clothing meant for a tallish skinny man.

My credit card company, on the other hand, was both efficient and required substantially less documentation. Hooray for Visa.

A few questions had come up in the comments, which I answered there, about the conference. I agree that often times academic conferences are about presenting your research. That wasn’t my role in this one. I was a postdoc on a project that had developed some educational software, and my work at the time was running a study on the educational effects it had on students in a natural science field. The senior PI and I were supposed to run a workshop at that conference training some professors on how they could use this software in their classrooms; the PI backed out, so I did it myself. This conference was not a venue in which either a talk or a poster about the educational study would have fit, but was for researchers working in the field of computing that this software made use of. Our grant wouldn’t let us bring non-US faculty to the training workshops we ran in the US, but would allow us to attend international conferences, so running shorter versions of the workshops there was a way to more widely distribute the program.

For those curious, the US airline was Delta; the partner airline was KLM. My conference was in Newcastle (in northern England); I chose to spend a week in Dublin (Ireland) for fun as part of the trip. Because of serious thunderstorms in Detroit the day I left, my flight from my home city to Detroit had been delayed for 7 hours, so I got rebooked onto other flights multiple times during the process, sometimes changing which airline I’d be on (at one point, I’d been moved to a Ryan Air flight from Amsterdam to Dublin, though I ended up actually on a KLM flight instead). The airlines were unable to agree which leg the bags were lost on, but they do agree that they were never sent to my hotel. Based on what documentation exists, the most likely sources of error were either in departing Detroit or arriving in Amsterdam, which would have been part of the trip whether I was taking the vacation part or not.

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer Strange*

    I finally ended up having to send pictures of the receipts to a customer service representative through Twitter

    Yep, I’ve found that in terms of getting customer service from an airline, Twitter is apparently the only way to get people to talk to you (for me it was Southwest rather than Delta).

    1. Artemesia*

      Same. The idea that everyone has receipts for their clothing etc seems absurd and is of course designed to discourage people from pursuing compensation for ruined or lost goods. Complaining on twitter does get immediate attention; helped us get our tickets reimbursed when we had to cancel for COVID (our flight was also cancelled — they still didn’t want to give us our money back)

      1. NeutralJanet*

        I might be misremembering, but I think the receipts are for the clothes that OP bought while on the trip, with the understanding that the airline was going to reimburse him for that clothing in addition to either sending him his located luggage or reimbursing him for its value, so in this case, it is a fairly reasonable ask for him to have those receipts on hand. Of course, the fact that he had to go on such a wild chase to get the reimbursement tips it back to the unreasonable, but so it goes.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. Still, it’s a good idea for US citizens to save receipts on non-perishable items such as clothing you buy in the EU, because you’re often eligible for a VAT (sales tax) refund as long as you leave within 3 months of buying the item (depends on the retailer). In some countries, VAT can be as high as 27 percent (Hungary) on non-reduced items, although rates between 20 and 25 percent are more common.

    2. Scottish Teapot*

      If you had any dealings with Ryanair you’ll find they will wash their hands of any blame they may or may not have

    3. anonymous73*

      Yup. They don’t want the bad publicity. We took a trip to NOLA a few years back. We had issues with a delayed flight where they gave our plane away because the flight before ours was severely delayed, and issues with an extremely rude and unhelpful woman at the front desk of our hotel. My husband took to Twitter and we got free parking at the hotel and $450 worth of airline vouchers.

    4. Koala dreams*

      I really dislike the trend that the only way to get help from customer service is through social media. It has become super common, especially for transport companies.

    5. Lacey*

      Yup, 80% of the time I can get an issue resolved on Twitter when customer service tells me nothing can be done over the phone.

      The other 20% are companies that REALLY do not care.

  2. Covered in Bees*

    Sorry they gave you the run around about your bags. KLM has not been doing well. My mom came to visit me in the US and they sent her bags to Paris instead of Amsterdam. They’ve been sitting there for weeks and she only gets a shrug when asking if they’ll ever show up.

    1. Scottish Teapot*

      I had a claim with KLM which ran for months and got far less than I should’ve. Granted this was a few years ago but given their size, I was shocked at their poor customer service. We ended up having to deal with the ombudsman which wasn’t that much help either

  3. Salad Daisy*

    #4 the airline lost my brother’s suitcase when he was in high school. They found it more than 10 years later and returned it to him. Of course nothing fit and everything was out of fashion, but it was funny to go through the clothes and see what folks wore back then.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      My friend had a suitcase returned after six months. It was unlocked and nothing was missing. They had given up on it and got a phone call out of the blue telling them to come to pick it up at the airport.

    2. cubone*

      An airline lost my luggage once and after a week I was still getting the runaround/assumed it was lost forever. A friend of mine happened to be arriving into the same airport, and called me while in baggage claim, asking what my luggage looked it (I had an external name tag on it). Apparently it was just sitting there on the floor, in the middle of baggage claim, about 10 feet away from the airline’s help desk. She grabbed it and walked out without saying anything to anyone, and I never heard a word from the airline about it again.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        And yet TSA continues to claim that if you haven’t had eyes on your bags at all times they will be treated like bombs. …security theater, I see you.

    3. Jack Russell Terrier*

      Before 911, I was taking a prop plane from San Francisco to Eurika. This meant I physically wheeled my carry-on size suitcase out to the plane and left it on a little luggage rack thing.

      Yup – it was’t there where got off. It had been sitting next to the plane. I can only think my poor bag was left wailing on the asphalt begging someone to help and trying not get run over by another plane. Perhaps it even went up to some planes and asked ‘are you my mother’.

      It did turn up at our hotel later on. Its wails must have been heard.

  4. Fed*

    #4, I know it doesn’t help now, but I put Tile trackers in my luggage. Apple trackers would also work.

    1. jj*

      Wow – I tile things just curious ADHD, but had never thought of this before. I am in the airport now tho happened to have a tiled item in my checked luggage – and just checked. It indeed showed my my luggage was in a terminal in the same airport I’m in. So cool!

  5. Ann O'Nemity*

    #4 brings back horror stories of coming back from study abroad. Through a series of human and computer errors, American Airlines first lost my luggage then lost me in their system. To simplify a convoluted story, I’ll just say that on my multi-leg journey, I showed up in Dallas and was denied boarding on my connecting flight because their system had no record of me. Despite the fact I’d literally just flown from Chicago to Dallas on AA. It took four days to finally get home, and the better part of the year to get reimbursed for the luggage. They did give me some vouchers for my trouble, but I never used them due to a combination of restrictive blackout dates and a general reluctance to ever fly AA again.

    1. PostalMixup*

      One time my husband and I flew from our home city to Denver on Frontier. We were having trouble checking in for our flight home, and when we showed up at the airport the ticket agent said “your tickets have been cancelled because you were a no-show for your outbound flight.” We were like “How do you think we got here, walked???” It got sorted out, but really! I don’t think I’ve flown Frontier since.

      1. WellRed*

        I had my connecting flight sold out from under me even though I had obviously checked in for the first leg of the flight.

    2. datamuse*

      I didn’t think so at the time, but the lost-luggage sagas I’ve heard have made me realize that it was a minor miracle that my bags arrived on a multi-leg, multiple-airline flight from Honolulu to Bangkok only 24 hours later than I did. (And I have to say, the baggage attendants at the airport in Bangkok were lovely, which is not a word I usually associate with any part of baggage handling. They drove me over to the office in a little go-kart, wrote down all the details of the missing bags, and later found them and brought them to my hotel the next day. Would that all lost-luggage stories ended thus.)

      1. Artemesia*

        A particular grim trip decades ago meant three rules for flying:
        1. If it is a business/conference trip I always travel in clothing I could stand up and present in — or have an outfit in the carry on.
        2. All business material go in the carry on (which means I have to check clothes, thus rule 1)
        3. On vacation travel my husband and I always cross pack a cube of an outfit in each other’s bags and if it is not a direct flight we carry a cube with extra underwear and an outfit on the plane in our messenger bags. We travel for weeks at a time and thus usually don’t carry our clothes in carry on bags. (we were once on a river cruise in Russia where one guy never did get his luggage from the airline. He dressed in donations from other passengers and souvenir tshirts and sweatshirts for the whole trip.)

        1. MCL*

          Yes. I now basically never check luggage, but if I must, packing spare toiletries, underwear, and one extra change of clothes is mandatory.

        2. BeenThere*

          Cross packing a cube in each others checked bags is a great idea! I do all the other things but this one is new.

          Mind you we try to do carry on only if we can swing it.

        3. Belle Watling*

          When I was travelling for work, I usually packed at least a small “overnight ” kit in my carry-0n if I was checking the rest of my clothes. All except the return home of a lengthy business and pleasure trip, so, of course, I got stranded late at night when an equipment delay caused me to miss my connecting flight. I was put up in hotel for the night but did not so much as a toothbrush. IMy kit came in handy the time that bad weather had me camping out on an airport floor. I was able to change clothes and clean up before baording the next flight.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      That definitely seems to be an issue with Dallas specifically- I’ve had to layover in DFW twice and both times they lost me in their system. The TSA there also broke my laptop and then very pointedly reminded that he had a firearm when I saw it happen.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        DFW airport is a place where dreams go to die. I consider it a minor miracle when I’m able to pass through that airport without something bad happening.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Wholly agreed. When I have any choice in the matter, I avoid it at all costs. It’s not worth the saved time to deal with whatever happens in DFW. I’d rather layover anywhere else, even North Dakota.

      2. Clorinda*

        What message were you supposed to receive from that–“You’re lucky I didn’t shoot it”? Or “You’re lucky if I don’t shoot you”? Wow.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I don’t know- it felt closer to the latter, but I didn’t stick around. I actually didn’t even put my shoes back on until I reached the gate, that’s how freaked out I was.

    4. allathian*

      When my best friend got married 20 years ago, the airline lost their baggage on the way to NYC. They did have some basic items in their hand baggage, but they got to shop for more clothes than they’d bargained for. They spent a few days in NYC, and flew to Miami, still no sign of their bags. Then they went on a cruise, and a hurricane delayed their return by a few days, so their return flight had to be rescheduled. They did get their bags back eventually, but it took ages. My friend also had to schedule an international ship-to-shore call to inform her employer that she wouldn’t be returning to work the following Monday because of the hurricane… She got a few more days off, and her employer was generous enough to grant her extra paid leave as a “wedding present”. Obviously the hurricane was considered an “act of God” so she wouldn’t have been penalized (warned or fired) for being AWOL anyway, but her employer didn’t have to pay her for that time.

    5. Boof*

      I’m pretty sure that it was AA that refused to let me board a direct flight to my final destination I happened to be on time for, and had seats, because they couldn’t swap the more conservative two legged route even though it would have been the same price and less time for me. “we can’t trade two tickets for one! It’s impossible!”

      United -never ever again
      AA – only with reluctance
      Southwest – used to like them but too limited from my city
      I was surprised to see delta come up I’ve been pretty happy with them, though jet blue’s been my favorite so far.

  6. SuperBB*

    When connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight through JFK, never hand your bag over to the “transit” organization just outside customs. Instead go check it in with the airline yourself.

    After returning from Europe, they sent my bag back to my departing city on a different airline, making a connection through a city that was not part of any itinerary I had flown. It took five days before the bag was finally located when it was scanned by the unclaimed baggage department and loaded into their global database.

  7. banoffee pie*

    LW 1 Quietness and ‘timidity’ is definitely subjective. If you’re working in showbiz or something. ‘extrovert’ is going to mean a different thing than it would in other workplaces. Glad the OP realised they weren’t at fault, and you don’t have to the a star-of-the-show type to be able to give presentations at work.

    1. Olivia Oil*

      I missed the original letter but would have loved to have weighed in (though I’m happy things worked out for the OP!) I tend to be “quiet and timid” but was always harshly criticized/teased for it growing up, with the implication that I needed to completely change my personality to be more of an extrovert. As an adult, I learned that you can be both timid and personable, and people actually don’t mind quiet, timid people if they are generally like able and good at their jobs. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to go through some uncomfortable developments to improve my communication style, but I didn’t have to do a total 180 on my personality either.

  8. Cait*

    Not that I’m victim-blaming, but this is why I never ever EVER check my bags. When I went on my two-week honeymoon traveling around Europe, I bought a serious hiking backpack and planned my outfits out ahead of time. That’s how committed I am to never checking a bag. Even if you don’t plan on layovers or switching planes, at some point you will be forced into a situation where you are heading to a place your bags aren’t. Everyone do yourselves a favor and invest in a large backpack or duffle bag as a carry-on and save yourselves the headache.

    1. OP4*

      I do often try not to check bags.

      But 2.5 weeks, 1 of them a scientific conference and the other 1.5 being on my own for fun (and therefore having to pack a pair of shoes since I needed two), needing to make sure my electronics and medication and whatnot were in the carry-on, staying in a place without an iron, having to plan for variable weather…I didn’t see a way to do that without checking a bag.

  9. Belle Watling*

    When I was travelling for work, I usually packed at least a small “overnight ” kit in my carry-0n if I was checking the rest of my clothes. All except the return home of a lengthy business and pleasure trip, so, of course, I got stranded late at night when an equipment delay caused me to miss my connecting flight. I was put up in hotel for the night but did not so much as a toothbrush. IMy kit came in handy the time that bad weather had me camping out on an airport floor. I was able to change clothes and clean up before baording the next flight.

  10. Corporate Lawyer*

    Ooh, #3 is brilliant. I’m going to start doing the same with my husband. (Assuming we fly for vacation again some day, that is.)

    And I use #2 for ski vacation travel except substitute “ski boots” for “business business material.” I never, ever trust an airline with my ski boots.

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      Arg, nesting fail! This was supposed to be a response to Artemesia’s three rules of air travel.

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