The “journey of a lifetime” turns into a nightmare

A Winnipeg man is demanding answers after a suitcase containing his father’s ashes and valuable heirlooms went missing for about two weeks after an Air Canada flight bound for Europe.

Ben Benton and his wife Michelle Kirkbride were planning to fulfill one of his father Evan’s last wishes, who wanted his ashes to be taken to his native country of England.

<p>Ben Benton holds a suitcase the couple had to buy in Europe after their luggage went missing.</p>
<p>Ben Benton holds a suitcase the couple had to buy in Europe after their luggage went missing.</p>
<p>But that will not happen – at least on this trip – because the suitcase was sent back to Winnipeg after it was discovered at an airport near Paris.			</p>
<p>“It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for my wife and I, and a tribute to my father, but it turned into a nightmare,” Benton said <em>free press</em> from a hotel in Athens, Greece on Tuesday.  “We’re emotionally drained.”			</p>
<p>Benton and Kirkbride were planning a nearly five-week European tour for her 50th birthday but had to postpone it due to his father’s ill health last fall and the Omicron-fueled COVID-19 outbreak.			</p>
<p>After his 88-year-old father died of cancer in October, they decided to make a stop in the English county of Norfolk to scatter the ashes alongside family members who live in England.			</p>
<p>Benton decided to place the ashes, which are kept in a stainless steel urn, in his checked suitcase rather than a carry-on when he left Winnipeg on June 8.			</p>
<p>Both the couple’s flight from Winnipeg and a connection in Montreal were delayed.			</p>
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<p>Evan Benton died in October aged 88 after battling cancer.</p>
<p>Evan Benton died in October at the age of 88 from complications from cancer.</p>
<p>After the couple landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, Benton’s heart sank when the couple’s suitcases failed to appear on a conveyor belt.			</p>
<p>“We waited at the baggage carousel and the line (of passengers) shrank and shrank, and we still stood there until the bags stopped coming,” Benton said.			</p>
<p>After filing a lost luggage claim at the airport, they began their tour of France expecting to be reunited with their suitcases within days.			</p>
<p>When the bags didn’t show up, they called Air Canada and airports for an explanation.			</p>
<p>“Here begins the wall or void of information.  No one seemed to be communicating with anyone,” Benton said, growing increasingly concerned and frustrated.			</p>
<p>“I thought, ‘Where are my father’s remains?  Where are the heirlooms?’” he said.  “These are irreplaceable items.”			</p>
<p>Benton and Kirkbride continued the journey, which included stops in Spain, Albania and Greece, but were forced to purchase a new suitcase, clothes, toiletries and other items to replace those contained in the missing suitcases.			</p>
<p>They said Air Canada promised to reimburse them for those costs, which totaled about $2,000.			</p>
<p>They estimate they have earned hundreds of dollars in cell phone charges for calls made from their Canadian cell phones.			</p>
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<p>Ben Benton (second right) with his mother Jan, father Evan and wife Michelle Kirkbride.</p>
<p>Ben Benton (second right) with his mother Jan, father Evan and wife Michelle Kirkbride.</p>
<p>Benton and Kirkbride said they spent up to 14 hours on the phone – much of it on hold – while trying to track down their bags.  They said they had to cancel tours and other plans to focus on making calls.			</p>
<p>“I worked an hour or two a day tracking down the bags,” Kirkbride said.  “It’s annoying. It’s just communication if they can improve that. Hopefully we’ll get some answers.”			</p>
<p>In a gruesome twist, her spare bag went missing while on a flight to Seville, Spain on another airline.  The suitcase was found and returned about 36 hours later.			</p>
<p>As for the other bags, Benton began to lose hope after a two-week search.			</p>
<p>He was relieved when an online tracker found a suitcase had been scanned.  In an email dated June 24, an airport employee asked him to enter a forwarding address.			</p>
<p>Benton entered the address of a hotel in Athens, but the bag was eventually sent back to Winnipeg.			</p>
<p>“I was freaking out because I wasn’t home to get a bag and I was just angry because those weren’t the instructions,” Benton said.			</p>
<p>He didn’t know it was the suitcase with the ashes until he got to Winnipeg and was picked up by someone he knows.			</p>
<p>“At least I can breathe a little bit because I know where the irreplaceable (items) are,” Benton said.  “I’m relieved but also angry because this whole process has deprived us of an experience.			</p>
<p>“Now they’re not sure where my wife’s bag is.”			</p>
<p>Benton will not ask Air Canada to pick up the suitcase in Winnipeg and ship it back to Europe.			</p>
<p>“I feel like I’m inviting more trouble and risk of loss into my life when I do that,” he said.  “I don’t expect a happy ending if we go down this path.”			</p>
<p>Benton and Kirkbride plan to cut short their visit to England and plan a future trip to fulfill his father’s wishes.			</p>
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The unexpected trip will cost thousands of dollars, so they’re hoping for a refund or flight credit from Air Canada.

A spokesman said Air Canada is reviewing the matter and “will deal directly with the customer.”

With far more people traveling since the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, there have been more cases of delayed bags, according to the airline.

A spokesman for Charles de Gaulle Airport could not be reached for comment.

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general duty reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.