‘Hero’ stepdad flew from Florida to Italy to find heirloom in lost bag


Brett Bunce was ready to accept that his family would never see their luggage again. Then he saw the look on his stepdaughter’s face.

British Airways lost their bags weeks earlier, somewhere in between flights from Miami to London to Florence. Bunce’s family went about their long-planned European vacation, spending thousands of dollars to replace the contents of their luggage. They kept hope they’d reclaim their belongings. But once they were back home in Jupiter, Fla., friends and loved ones told them it was a lost cause. The airline still had not given them an update.

One day after school, 14-year-old Carolina Bonasoro broke down. With her voice cracking and tears beginning to form on her face, she tried to explain. Her mother, Gwyneth Bonasoro, took her upstairs, and Carolina told her it wasn’t just the dresses she was upset about. Her late grandmother’s white pearl bracelet was in those bags. She also stowed dozens of loose gold coins, including a rare lira piece, that her mother gifted her to help her connect with her Italian heritage.

She was particularly upset about the bracelet, an irreplaceable symbol of the woman her family lost years ago.

“It was like having a piece of her there, with me,” Carolina said.

With little help from the airline, Bunce decided to take matters into his own hands. He was going back to Florence. A week and roughly $4,000 in travel fees later, he brought the luggage home, jewelry and all, with assistance from a random email he received from a good Samaritan.

“I knew it was worth a shot to make an effort to get this jewelry back,” he said. “If we hadn’t made that risk, we likely would have wondered for a long time where it might be. It just meant so much to her, and us.”

How to prevent lost luggage — and get compensation when you don’t

$1,900 on new clothes for a week

It took around 15 minutes of waiting outside their designated baggage carousel at the Florence airport for the Bonasoro-Bunce family’s anticipation to turn into panic and eventually frustration.

Including a layover in London Heathrow, their journey took nearly 16 hours to complete. Their plan was to travel into Naples and Rome, and complete the same connecting flight back to Miami International Airport.

Every last detail of the trip, including what they would pack, had been decided at least a month in advance. Carolina had planned elaborate outfits, including one built around an ocean-blue, ruffled ball gown to wear with hopes of impressing her celebrity crush, Tom Cruise, who she heard might be present at a gala in Rome. Gwyneth dreamed of family photos at the Trevi Fountain.

Bunce even booked the trip through a travel agency — his first time doing so — spending weeks ironing out flights, hotels and itinerary details.

A local’s guide to Florence

When the family arrived in Florence on June 15, they saw their baggage wasn’t on the carousel and started to worry it was lost. They visited the British Airways office at the airport, where they were told to fill out a form. Bunce said his family was told their bags might arrive within a day’s time, but that estimation wasn’t precise.

But the airline couldn’t give a clear update on where the bags were, Bunce said. After receiving case and reference numbers for the lost luggage, the family’s only hope was to keep calling British Airways and checking for updates on the airline’s website.

As the days went on, the site showed the same message: “Status: searching for your bag. As soon as we locate this bag we will notify you to let you know where it is.”

The family continued their trip as planned, with the added measure of shopping for entirely new wardrobes. They spent roughly $1,900 to replace their clothes, Bunce said, deciphering the meaning of European sizes for delicate undergarments and other clothes.

“They’re things you can replace, but become such a huge part of your life in ways you don’t realize,” Gwyneth said.

Through the travel agency, Bunce found out British Airways could reimburse the family for any purchase that covered missing items, but Bunce said they still haven’t received that sum months later. The almost-daily calls Bunce had made to the carrier only left him more frustrated than before.

In a statement sent to The Washington Post on Thursday, British Airways said the company was “really sorry for the inconvenience caused by the delay to the customer’s baggage.” The airline said the Bonasoro-Bunce family’s bags were flown to Florence the day after they arrived and passed to a courier.

“Despite best efforts, the courier was not able to deliver the bags due to the customer’s change of delivery address, and the bags were returned to their sorting office, where they were due to be processed and sent on to the new location or returned to their home address,” the statement said. “We are in direct contact with the customer to settle their claim as soon as possible.”

However, after The Post received that statement, Bunce said he still had not heard any update from the airline.

After Carolina broke the news about losing her grandmother’s jewelry, Bunce threw out the idea of a last-minute trip back to Florence through American Airlines.

Fourth of July weekend was about a week away, so he arranged an extra day off from work and a four-day trip, costing him around $4,000 in total.

“I needed to make sure we exhausted all of our options before we could really make peace with losing our luggage, and losing something that was basically irreplaceable to our family,” Bunce said.

His only clue was a email from a stranger, Anne Johnson, from Colorado, who was also looking for her own lost bags in Florence.

“Your bag is in the lost luggage area,” she wrote in her initial June 19 email, which The Post reviewed. “Go to the airport lost and found, show them your lost luggage claim, and ask to go in and look.”

Johnson, an engineering professor at the Air Force Academy, said she happened to see the names and flight details for the Bonasoro-Bunce family on their bag tags. She spotted the family’s luggage as she was searching through an unclaimed baggage area at the Florence airport while trying to find her own bags. She had spent weeks trying to recover lost luggage for her family, as well as her daughter’s best friend, who accompanied them on vacation.

“I’m gonna find this thing and I’m gonna get it back,” she said. “If I hadn’t done that, it would probably still be sitting in Florence. I fully believe that they would not have gotten to it.”

Johnson said she picked a few bags she saw in a lost luggage area and memorized the emails on the tags to reach out.

At first, Bunce said he thought Johnson’s email was a scam. Later, he would decide it was his only lead.

When he made the decision to return to Florence, Bunce thought back to Johnson’s email.

Soon he was on a direct overnight flight from Miami to Rome, followed by a train north to Florence. He had given himself less than a day and a half to find the missing bags.

He took his passport and his bag information, hoping security would allow him everywhere he needed to go.

His first stop was at the lost-and-found booth, right at the back side of the baggage claim area, where dozens of other passengers were ahead of him in line. Some appeared disheveled and frustrated as they waited.

There was only a single attendant on staff, Bunce said, and it took three hours to get to the front of the line. The worker reiterated to Bunce what British Airways had said for weeks; their luggage couldn’t be located, and there wasn’t much they could do.

After Bunce stressed he’d seen the luggage in a hangar, based on Johnson’s email, airport crew members suggested that he take a look for himself. They wrote an address on a piece of paper and instructed him to wait outside, near a service entrance at the back of the airport.

Around 45 minutes later, he was finally let into the hangar after passing through a metal detector. There, he saw a vast field of scattered luggage. He described the space as a maze, estimating there were more than 2,000 unclaimed bags there.

He walked around the cluttered baggage area, and by the second lap, Bunce began to think he might never see these bags again. He felt his nerves well up, and his pacing intensified.

“All this work, and I was just nervous we’d never know what truly happened to our bags,” he said.

But, on the third round of combing through unclaimed luggage, after roughly four hours of searching, he saw his wife’s black suitcase, and then his stepdaughter’s pink bag standing next to it. He felt instant relief, and quickly snapped a photo to send to his family back home.

He also sent the same photo to Johnson. Among the many stray bags pictured, she was able to spot the red duffle bag that belonged to her daughter’s best friend. She felt especially guilty that the friend’s baggage was lost, because it was her first time in Europe and the bag was full of souvenirs. Eventually, she told Bunce in an email, she returned to reclaim it.

“This is the universe working for us,” she said. “I don’t know if this is good karma coming back at me, but of course, I was excited.”

Gwyneth and Carolina had gotten home after having lunch with another family member when they found out the bags had been found, and recalled screaming with jubilation from their seats when Bunce sent them pictures of their luggage.

When he arrived in Miami, bags in tow, Gwyneth waited for him with gifts, including a shirt with “Hero” printed on it.

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