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United Airlines told a woman they'd deliver her lost bag — then she tracked it to an apartment complex

Holiday travel was nothing short of chaotic in recent days as a massive winter storm swept across the nation, forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights. But for one woman, the mayhem was made even worse after her luggage went missing — and she said her Apple AirTag revealed it was not where the airline claimed. 

Valerie Szybala, a senior open-source intelligence analyst based in Washington, D.C., described her ordeal in a series of tweets that went viral this week. The luggage seemed to have gone missing after she arrived back in D.C., and she reported her bag missing to United Airlines on Dec. 28, according to her tweets and interview with CBS affiliate WUSA.

"I'd just like everyone to know that [United Airlines] has lost track of my bag and is lying about it," she wrote on January 1. "My apple AirTag shows that it has been sitting in a residential apartment complex for over a day. Out back by the dumpsters, I have found other emptied United Airlines bags." 

She went on to say that when she was messaging a United Airlines representative about the matter, they stopped responding after she "pressed them to send me the details of their lost/stolen bag policy." 

Screenshots of an exchange with a United representative show Szybala saying that her Apple AirTag indicates the luggage was at a residential apartment complex "for several days." 

"There is no commercial storage unit here that your deliver company might be using," she wrote. "...If it is still going to be delivered, then why is my luggage there?" 

The representative appears to respond, "Calm down you bag is at the delivery service. ... We will deliver the bag to you, don't worry." 

Later that day, in what she called a "major update," Szybala revealed that her AirTag "and hopefully luggage" seemed to be on the move for the first time in two days. Her tracker appeared to go from the apartment complex in D.C. to a local McDonald's. It went on a similar adventure on Monday, with the AirTag indicating it moved about 16 miles outside of the city to the Bowie Town Center shopping complex in Bowie, Maryland, before returning back to the apartment. 

Then on Tuesday, it finally happened — she got her luggage back. 

"After my suitcase went to the suburbs on another shopping trip and then back to the apartment complex I went to see if I could track it down," she wrote, adding that while there, she found two other empty suitcases next to a dumpster that appeared to be from United customers. One had the owner's contact info, so she emailed them. A building resident later told her they saw someone take the bags back into the building. 

"After creeping around the building's garage with a little posse trying to get a signal, I stepped outside for service. That's when I received this text message. It's sketchy, and it doesn't really match with what my AirTag tracking said, but I immediately called the number," she wrote.

The text message in question said it was from someone with DCA Couriers United, and said they were delivering her missing luggage. 

"I want to apologise for the inconvenience that you've had with your bag. Imma deliver it to you today," the driver texted. "The issue was that the bag was given to me under a different passenger and I delivered your in a different address and had to go back to that place and pick it up." 

Szybala said that person then met up with her near the building, which was miles from her home, to bring her the bag, but she added that she suspects he wasn't being truthful about the situation. 

It appeared that no items were missing from her luggage, which was locked, she said. She later said on Twitter that United has launched an investigation into the delivery service and that she was given 10,000 airline miles as compensation. 

"Investigations are ongoing, but based on what I know, no I personally do not believe it was an honest misunderstanding," Szybala told one person on Twitter. 

In a statement to CBS News, United Airlines said they've been in contact with Szybala about the situation and are looking into what went wrong. 

"We've been in touch with this customer to discuss this situation and confirm she has received her luggage. The service our baggage delivery vendor provided does not meet our standards and we are investigating what happened to lead to this service failure," United said.

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