It happens….. you arrive at your destination and watch the baggage carousel go around and around until the last bag is picked up, and then it hits you, you bag is lost. Every year, over two million bags are lost, damaged, delayed, or pilfered, according to “mishandled baggage” reports made by the largest U.S. airlines to the Department of Transportation. (That’s about 3.57 reports per 1,000 passengers.) Here’s a few tips to help reduce the chances of your bag being lost when given over to the airlines.
Double-check: Ask the flight attendant handling your bag if you can see the routing information placed on the handle to verify its accuracy before she sends your suitcase down the conveyor belt. This is especially important if you have a connecting flight, because bags are not always routed directly to the final destination—on occasion, it may be your responsibility to pick up your bag from the first leg of your journey and re-check it, and the best way to confirm this is to see what’s written on the label.
Make yourself known: The key is to ID your bag in multiple places—outside as well as inside—by placing ID cards in various pockets and pouches. And then add another, using the paper tags provided by the airline carrier. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number (preferably a mobile number).
Share your plans: Pack a copy of your itinerary (in a place that’s not too hard to find) so that airline workers will know where to route your bag in the case they find it and cannot get in touch with you.
Document the evidence: Photograph or video the contents of your bag as you pack. Just lay everything out on the bed and take a few photos with your camera or phone. Not only will that help to identify your bag if it goes missing, it will also help with claims forms if your suitcase is never found.
Remove extras: Before checking your bag, take off any removable straps; this will decrease the likelihood of it getting snagged along the way.
Arrive early: If you check a bag within 30 minutes of your departure time, it may not actually make it onto the plane.
Stick to tradition: Finally, don’t check your bag with the curbside baggage checker; go inside to the main counter to decrease the chances of a mix-up.
Embellish your bag: Whether you buy a colorful handle wrap or just add a few stripes of bright duct tape, making yours different from the others could draw the attention of a not-so-motivated airline employee. Another option is to purchase a bag that’s not black or navy (like the overwhelming majority), making it easier to spot in a roomful of luggage.
Tips if your luggage is lost, delayed, damaged, or stolen while in the airlines’ possession
- Put your name on the outside and inside of your bags. Even better, put a copy of your itinerary in each checked bag so the airline can locate you.
- The most common causes of lost and delayed bags are late check-ins and tight connections. Avoid both when you can.
- Pack all valuables in your carry-on bags. Cameras, computers, medication, wallets, heirlooms, jewelry, passports, as well as confirmation numbers, itineraries, contact information and other documents necessary to your travel should never be in your checked baggage.
- Itemize. It sounds tedious, but when an airline asks what was in your bag, you don’t want to forget anything of value. If you make a packing list before you travel, hang onto it — this is an easy way to remember everything you put into your bags.
- Make sure the person who checks your baggage attaches the correct destination ticket to every bag, and get a claim ticket for each.
- Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag so that you’ll have something to wear if your checked bag is delayed.
- Travel insurance is the best guarantee that you’ll recoup any losses. See our guide to travel insurance for more information.
- Consider using a baggage tagging service – in which many can be found by a simple internet search. Many of these companies offer luggage tags with unique serial numbers that can be linked to the suitcase owner via an online database. The site will contact you as soon as your lost item is found. (An annual fee applies.)
If all else fails and your luggage is lost
If your bag is lost, stolen or damaged, be sure to file a complaint immediately. If you still can’t get satisfaction, or feel the need to report the airline, contact the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Finally, if you’re wondering where lost bags go after they die, here’s your answer:UnclaimedBaggage.com!