updated 2/15/2005 10:30:50 AM ET 2005-02-15T15:30:50

Northwest Airlines’ baggage handling system suffered major backups in Detroit over the weekend, with thousands of pieces of luggage left off flights and piled to the ceiling behind the counters.

“It was chaos,” said Donna Satterfield of Grosse Pointe Park. She said her luggage was delivered to her Sunday night in Lake Tahoe, Nev., more than 36 hours after she left Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “The luggage was piled up and people were really angry.”

Northwest officials acknowledged problems with the airline’s luggage-sorting system but said those glitches were caused by a backup at Transportation Security Administration machines. Northwest is in its own terminal.

“This was an unusual event, driven by an unusual combination of circumstances,” Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch told the Detroit Free Press. “Northwest is working together with all interested parties to prevent this from happening again.”

Stephen Gordon, president of Local 141 of the Machinists union, which represents baggage handlers, blamed inadequate staffing and warned the problem could happen again this weekend. Northwest declined to say how many people were working, but said staffing levels were based on the anticipated number of passengers.

Ebenhoch said all luggage had left Metro by Monday and either had been delivered to travelers or was on the way.

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