A trip to Germany that started with cancelled flights and missed connections only got more horrifying when Merry Cannon return home to Arkansas.

Cannon, 36, was excited to be joining her husband on a business trip to Germany and France, accompanied by her children, aged 1 and 5.

But first their American Airlines flight from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was cancelled because of a broken windshield and they missed their connecting flight in Chicago.

Then their rebooked flight to Chicago sat on the runway for an hour, although the family was bumped to business and first class.

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Next, American Airlines told them their seats to Europe "had been given up" and, unable to fly out until 10pm the next day, they had to skip the entire German leg of the trip, fly instead to Brussels, rent a car and drive two hours to Lille, France.

The luggage was lost for five days. Photo / Supplied
The luggage was lost for five days. Photo / Supplied

But it only got worse: "They lost our luggage for five days," Cannon told news.com.au.

"The night before we were leaving for London to return home, it was delivered at 10.30pm. By then it was comical and my husband joked that at least when we get home we won't have all that laundry to do."

And worse: "[The bag] smelled like something had died. I of course didn't think that was actually the case."

On arriving in Arkansas, Cannon took the bag to American Airlines' customer service desk where she claims the staff member told her the smell may be from the bag getting wet while it sat for days on the runway.

"He thought it was mould, but even said it smelled far worse than that.

"When we returned home, we took the bag to our back porch because the smell was so horrendous. I began to wash the clothes."

And then she saw it: "When I grabbed the clothes is when I saw the rat. I have never screamed and cried so much in my life. I ran inside and began scrubbing my hands and arms. I had touched the things in this bag because American Airlines told me to just wash everything."

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Merry Cannon cried and screamed when she saw what had hitched a ride in her luggage. Photo / Supplied
Merry Cannon cried and screamed when she saw what had hitched a ride in her luggage. Photo / Supplied

Could it get any worse? Yes, it could.

Later that day, she contacted the US Department of Health for advice.

"I asked if the rat needed to be tested but he said that because we don't even know what country the rat is from they wouldn't even know where to start. I then asked if I should be concerned and he said, 'The biggest concern would be the plague'. That never even entered my mind."

The other main concern was fleas, which carry disease.
"The one positive thing he did tell me was, 'a dead rat is better than a live rat'. You can probably imagine how comforting that was to me. He told me the bag and all the belongings needed to be burned immediately."

After repeated calls to the airline, they agreed to pay her US$1600 ($2250).

"My bag and its belongings totalled US$3217. The whole trip with American Airlines was a bit of a nightmare and the rat in the bag was, for lack of better words, the cherry on top."

News.com.au has contacted American Airlines for comment.