I recently had the misfortune of having an airline misplace my baggage and I can tell you from experience… it’s not a good feeling.
You may think that when an airline looses your bag, you’ll always get it back and if they do end up loosing it for good, they’ll reimburse you for everything you lost and for the inconvenience.
Unfortunately, while recent US Department of Transportation laws do help to hold airlines responsible for your things, the gap between what you lost and what you stand to be reimbursed for is enormous.
Airlines are only required to pay you back for “the depreciated value” of what was in your luggage and “all reasonable, actual and verifiable expenses related to baggage loss, damage or delay”.
This is all to say that your best approach to avoiding this disaster is being pre-emptive. Do everything you can to avoid loosing your luggage and help ensure that if the airline does misplace it, you can relocate it as quickly as possible.
Try To Travel With Carry-On
If you really want to avoid all risk of the airline loosing your luggage, travel with only a carry-on bag. You may be thinking that this is impossible, but keep in mind that you’re technically allowed 1 carry-on item and one personal item (like a laptop case) on all of your flights.
That laptop case can be stuffed with clothing as well and can basically be any form of bag that is slung over your shoulder. You can also wear 9 layers of clothing if you’re a really heavy packer!
Tag Your Checked Bag Well
Okay, so you’ve accepted the fact that you won’t be able to survive with just a carry-on and a laptop bag stuffed with clothing.
If you do have to check your bag, you should make sure it is VERY well tagged. Write the address of the hotel that you’ll be staying in at your destination and the phone number to their front desk.
Also write your cell phone number and your home address on the tags. Maybe even include some instructions on the tag to describe where you want the bag to go in the event that it is lost. Be as detailed as possible.
Confirm That Your Bag is Checked To Your Final Destination
Many lost luggage instances are simply a miscommunication between the passenger and the airline. Just because you checked your luggage at your departing airport, doesn’t mean that it is going to arrive at your final destination.
If you have a layover, always ask the airline if they will be handling your luggage for you.
Sometimes, you will be required to wait at the luggage carousel during your layover, grab your bag, go through security again and re-check it before boarding your connecting plane.
Travel With A Phone
I can’t stress this enough. You may expect that once an airline misplaces your bag, they will do everything they can to keep you informed and communicate with you while they attempt to find it.
In my experience, this just isn’t true. It’s annoying having to constantly borrow someone else’s phone, or wait on hold in your hotel lobby.
Travel with your own phone so that you can call the airline daily to keep them on the case. Also, you can write your mobile phone number on your lost luggage claim form. That way, they should (theoretically) SMS you when the status of your case changes.
If your phone has data on it, you can use it to check the airline’s website for status updates on your lost luggage claim.
Usually you will just have to enter your last name and the reference number that the airline agent gave you and you’ll be able to see if your luggage has been found.
Track Your Luggage With GPS
This may seem like an extreme measure, but when my bag was lost for 5 days, I wished I had some way to find it myself. Airlines can accidentally place your bag on a transiting plane, leave it at an airport or it can even be stolen.
You can pick up a GPS tracker on Amazon for under $50 and track the location of your luggage in real-time through a computer or your smart phone.
In my case, had I put a luggage tracker in my bag, I could have told the airline that my luggage was stuck in JFK Airport and they could have spent their efforts looking there, rather than wasting 5 days trying to locate it in Istanbul.
Cross Your Fingers & Hope For The Best
According to the DOT’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report, 2.9 in 10,000 passengers experience delayed, damaged or lost baggage. They estimate less than 2% of those passengers actually end up with their luggage being permanently lost.
This makes it sound like you have a very small chance of loosing your bag, but when you’re sitting in the luggage lost and found office at the airport, surrounded by dozens of other bereaved passengers, it feels like it happens all of the time.
Do your best to avoid this disaster and if it does happen to you, make a claim right away at the airport lost and found counter (usually well-marked and located next to the luggage carousels). Also contact your travel insurance and credit card provider to see what you are covered for.
Hopefully you never have to experience not knowing where your luggage is. If you’re proactive, you may be able to avoid it altogether.