As difficult as it may be to believe, the major airlines have actually
improved their mishandled-baggage record in the recent past.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the chances of your luggage
getting “mishandled” – a term that includes lost, damaged, delayed or
pilfered baggage – are about 1 in 200. Of course that’s not much consolation
if an airline has lost your luggage.
Is there a way to improve those odds? And when your luggage doesn’t show up
on the carousel, what should you do?
Here are the basic rules.
1. Plan ahead for problems. When you pack your carry-on
baggage for an extended trip, make to sure to throw in a change of clothing
for one day as well as necessary toiletries. This is your simplest insurance
policy. For the most part, airlines manage to get lost luggage reunited with
its owners within 24 hours.
2. Tag your bag. Pay attention to your bag’s destination.
Check your luggage check tag to insure it’s checked through to the right
place. Believe it or not, this is the biggest single miscue when checked
luggage doesn’t arrive at the proper airport. With more and more travelers
checking luggage at curbside, the chances for errors have been compounded.
3. Check luggage on time. Today’s airports have luggage
check-in rules that, theoretically, allow time for sorting of luggage and
delivery to the correct aircraft. Don’t push the system. Weather,
mechanical, security and human delays can all have serious consequences when
your luggage is cruising down the conveyor belt and selected for security
examination with little time to spare. If you are checking in luggage, allow
time for the entire process.
4. Identify your luggage — inside and out. This
sounds simple, but few travelers put identification and destination inside
their luggage or know the basic descriptions of their luggage. If baggage
tags have been torn off, having identification and destination information
inside luggage can be a Godsend. Anyone who has stood in a lost luggage line
can attest to this basic fact: most travelers can’t describe their luggage.
Take a moment to note the bag brand. Is it a Travelpro, Samsonite, Delsey or
American Tourister? Also take a good look at the color. Is it dark blue,
purple, tan, black or burgundy?
5. Fill out all forms at the airport. Do not leave the
airport without either the luggage or a lost luggage report from the
airline. When luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel, jump into action.
Make sure to immediately fill out the appropriate lost luggage forms. Many
times, airline personnel explain that the luggage has been located, however
will be delayed until the next flight. If you have the time, wait. If not,
fill out the forms and the airline will get the baggage to your home or
6. Ask the airline what it can do for you. The baggage
service offices at airlines are full of surprising information. If luggage
loss is going to be extended, some airlines in some locations will issue
petty cash to purchase toiletries and sundries. Others will provide coupons
for rental of special clothing and equipment such as ski and snowboard
outfits. I’ve heard stories of airlines picking up tuxedo rentals for
special occasions. If your luggage is damaged, point out the damage and the
airline will have your suitcase repaired or, may have a supply of
replacement suitcases in their backroom which can solve the problem on the
7. Make a claim. In the rare case or completely lost
luggage, the airlines have a liability limit of $2,500 for domestic flights.
International liability limits are not quite so generous. Some credit cards
and travel insurance policies cover lost and damaged luggage — read the
fine print. And household goods and renters insurance normally also cover
your property, even when in transit on public transportation.
Vacations without hassles are are far more relaxing. Follow these rules and the chances of losing the game of airline baggage roulette will be significantly decreased.