I don't know what happened.
I arrived at Stuttgart Airport two hours early. I was among the first people to check in for the Air France flight. More than 90 minutes passed between my arrival in Paris and departure on the Continental flight bound for America. My bag was marked with one of those special yellow "Priority" tags that identifies a customer with elite status, and Air France and Continental are SkyTeam partners with established interline baggage procedures.
In short, I did everything right. Nonetheless, when the conveyor belt stopped at Newark-Liberty International Airport, I was one of a dozen passengers whose bags had not made it onto our flight out of Charles de Gaulle--and every one of us had connected from an earlier destination.
I'll get them back, I'm sure. When I arrive in D.C., I'll file a claim, and they'll be tracked down. In a day, or two, or maybe three, the bags will probably be delivered. But until then, I'll be without the bulk of my dress clothes, half of my tailor-made dress shirts, my best cuff links, my dress shoes, and more than half a dozen bottles of wine that I bought as Christmas presents. The clothing is particularly problematic since tonight is my company Holiday Party (a semi-formal event).
Could I have avoided it? Yes, it theory: I could have chosen an itinerary that kept all of my flights with one carrier. When you have a connection from one airline to another, no matter how you've arranged it, the odds go up that your bags won't make the transfer. It's one of the little secrets the airlines try to keep hidden, especially among their codeshare partners.
But doing that would have meant bypassing SkyTeam. That, in turn, would have cost me the 5700 miles I'll earn for the itinerary, miles that will lock in my top-tier Platinum status with Continental and its affiliates for 2008. What's worth more: avoiding a few days' wait for luggage, or enjoying priority upgrades on domestic and international flights? When you travel more than 200,000 miles a year like I do, it's not really a question.
Baggage gets lost some times. Even between flights with the same carrier, not everything always makes the transfer. Short of staying home, there's really not much you can do about it.
Know what you packed, be prepared to estimate the fair market value in case it does need to be replaced, and try to keep calm. It will work out eventually.