EAGLE - Ken Hinchliffe asked himself a question four years ago - what happens when luggage and air travelers get separated? That question has turned into a business.Hinchliffe owns R & K Baggage Delivery, a service that brings delayed bags from the Eagle County Regional Airport to its owners' hotel rooms and condos around the valley.Hinchliffe started out by calling American Airlines and asking who handled its delayed baggage. These days, working under the umbrella of a national service, he delivers delayed luggage for all the airlines that fly into and out of the airport.It's a busy job. The business has two full-time drivers and a core of part-timers, all of whom drive thousands of miles every winter to reunite bags and their owners. Mike Warren, who works with Hinchliffe throughout the season, said he expects he'll be making two trips to Aspen and back every day once the winter flight season is in full swing.While most of the trips go to Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen and Snowmass, Warren said the company will occasionally haul bags to Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge or other mountain resorts.Business for R & K is fairly slow right now, but once the ski season's flight schedule hits its stride, there are no days off for the boss."I'll work 105 or 110 days in a row sometimes," Hinchliffe said.Delivering bags from all over the world has taught Hinchliffe a few things about luggage and how it moves around, starting with terminology."Luggage is never 'lost' unless (owners) don't get it," he said. "It's always delayed."There can be almost as many reasons for a delay as there are planes in the air, but most involve the simple fact that people and their bags sometimes take different planes to their destinations, especially on international flights.When bags and people are separated, Hinchliffe and his employees are notified by the airlines, and will meet the planes carrying the luggage. Often, luggage will come in on the next plane. Sometimes, Warren said, delayed bags will end up in Eagle County while travelers who deplaned in Denver are still driving their rented cars up Interstate 70, meaning guests' luggage will sometimes beat them to a hotel.With the ups and downs of ski-season flight schedules, sometimes there isn't a next plane for a few days. When that happens, airlines will route bags to Denver International Airport, then put them on a United Express shuttle flight from Denver to Eagle County. Sometimes, those bags will come in as late as 11 p.m., which can result in some relatively late nights."We don't wait," Hinchliffe said. "When the bags come in, we go."When the bags do arrive, airline agents give Hinchliffe or one of his drivers the appropriate paperwork - there's always paperwork - and the luggage is sent to its ultimate destination.Often, Hinchliffe and his drivers will leave luggage with hotel concierges. Other times, they'll deliver to a condo's front door. People tend to be unhappy when their gear doesn't arrive when they do, but Hinchliffe said those guests tend to relax once they know he's on his way."I'm their knight in shining armor," he said.Hinchliffe will also send photos of the driver and vehicle that's on its way, so people know who's coming.After four years of luggage delivery in the winter and landscaping in the summer, Hinchliffe still enjoys the work."It's better than tending bar - you get to meet some really interesting people," he said.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.
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