We have all been there standing at baggage claim only not to see our luggage show up. It is a terrible feeling and a helpless one. I try to always carry-on my luggage but there are times when checking a bag is mandatory or the bag is too large to carry on to the plane. Before you lose your next bag lets look at some ways to prevent lost luggage and start with the basics.
Clearly Label Your Luggage
This is pretty basic but a lot of bags look alike today and someone may take your bag by mistake. Clearly mark your luggage with a luggage tag and double check that your information is on there. This is not only helpful for bags that look similar but if your bag ends up at the wrongs destination your luggage tag will give the airline an easy way to contact you.
Update Your Info
Many people have luggage tags on all of their bags but the info is out of date. Put your current address on there, email address, and a current cell phone number where people can reach you. You never know where your bag might end up. The airline will be able to find you without this information but a fellow passenger that grabs the wrong bag won’t be able to as easily. Make it as simple as possible for others to contact you.
Leave Plenty of Time Between Connections
When you transfer planes your bags also have to make that connection. You may notice when you purchase a ticket they will warn you if a connection time is short. That means your baggage might not make the connection even if you do. If there is a delay and you have to run to the next gate there is a good chance you won’t see your baggage at the final destination. If you are checking a bag be sure to leave plenty of time between connections. In my experience 1 hour is a good starting point.
Don’t Pack Anything Valuable or Breakable
This bags are not handled with care. If you have ever observed baggage handlers outside the window of a plane they are tossing your bags from one place to the next. Keep the breakables in your carry-on and the same goes for anything of value. If your bag is lost forever you will probably get a reimbursement from the airline. However, I can guarantee you it is not going to cover all your jewelry or thousands of dollars of electronics you packed inside. Clothes are easily replaceable and that is the only thing I will put in a checked bag.
Check-in on Time
They tell you to check-in two hours before an international flight and one hour before a domestic. We pretty much never need this much time to get through security and to our gate but that doesn’t mean our baggage moves as fast as us. If you check-in later than the airline recommends then there is a chance your baggage won’t make your flight. If you have to check a bag then plan to get to the airport early.
Use a Luggage Tracker
If you are really worried about losing your baggage or want to keep track of it at all time there is track it with a simple device. Trackdot is a device you put in your luggage and it uses cellular networks to monitor where your bag is at all times. It will go to sleep in the air and wake up in the new city where your bag is. It will then alert you via text or email that your bag has arrived and what city it is in (hopefully the same city as you). There is even an app to help you keep tabs on your luggage. I have yet to try this device but has definitely peaked my interest.
Put Your Itinerary Inside Your Bag
This might seem like overkill but if something were to happen to your luggage tags this might be the last resort. Having documentation inside your bag could save the day in the worst-case scenario. It will have your information and final destination clearly printed on it. It is an easy habit to get into and might be the only thing that returns your lost luggage to you.
How to Find Lost Luggage
Now that you have lost your luggage it is time to find it. Let’s go over some options to get your lost luggage back quickly.
Know Your Rights
Every passenger has rights to lost luggage and it is important to know them. This does not mean you should start yelling at the airline over the phone or in person. They deal with idiots all the time do just be calm and they will do their best to help you. Remember that they are not the ones who lost it.
Here is a list from the Aviation Consumer Baggage Protection and Enforcement. Look on their for your airline and read about your rights as a passenger.
Hold on to Your Bag Tag
When they tag your bags that information is what is going to get your baggage from one airport to the next. They give you the stub from that tag. Most of the time they stick it on the back of your boarding pass so you don’t lose it. This is important information for you to hold on to so do not throw it away. You can use this little tag to find your luggage after it is lost.
For example, American Airlines uses the WorldTracer to locate lost baggage.
All you need to do is enter your reference number and information which will locate you lost bag. It may not be in your current city but at least you will be able to locate it around the world.
Delta also has a step-by-step guide to luggage recovery.
Don’t Leave the Airport
After an exhausting day of travel and a lost bag it may be tempting to deal with it the next day but do not take this approach. File a claim before you leave the airport. This will let the airlines know that your baggage is lost immediately and begin the process of locating it.
After filing a lost baggage report at the airport you can head to your hotel or home but the process doesn’t end there. Call them the next morning for an updated report. I have had bags take weeks to arrive after being lost and I called daily until I was told when the bag would arrive. Persistence pays off.
Itemize Contents of Bag
This is unrealistic for most of us but if you are to pack expensive items in your checked luggage you better keep records of it. Create a packing list of everything you pack in your luggage. Then take photos of the contents. If the bag is never recovered this will help with the reimbursement process.
File a Complaint
If you do not get your baggage returned you can file a complaint with the U.S Department of Transportation. This is hopefully a last resort but a necessary one in some cases.
Some credit cards or even homeowner insurance will cover lost baggage but if yours does not you should look into travel insurance. Some companies such as World Nomads offer travel insurance for stolen baggage.
Even if you do not foresee having a bag stolen on your next vacation it is wise to pick up travel insurance anyway just to be safe. World Nomads is one of my favorites.
Carry-on your bags whenever possible. If you do have to check your bags be sure to take all the necessary precautions so you can locate your bag after it is lost.