Last year, more than 2 million of the roughly 700 million suitcases checked on U.S. airlines didn’t arrive at their final destination with their owners. Most were returned within 24 hours, usually on the next flight. But 68,000 never made it. Here are some things you can do to help prevent and recover lost luggage:
Loss Prevention: How to Not Lose Your Luggage
Tag it: Remove all old tags from prior flights. Make sure the new tag has your name, flight number, and destination. Keep your baggage claim check in a safe place so that if your bag is lost, you can easily file a claim with the airline.
Use backup: Place a copy of your itinerary inside your suitcase with your cell phone number and hotel name in case the tag is ripped off.
Be flashy: To prevent someone from accidentally taking your bag at baggage claim, make it stand out by tying a bright ribbon to the handle. Or, just buy a printed or brightly colored suitcase.
Fly non-stop: If possible, choose a direct flight. The airline will be much less likely to lose your bags because they’ll be handled less. If you can’t find a non-stop flight, try to at least find a connection that will not require you to change planes. If you’re packing just a carry-on, bring these items that could save your life.
Give yourself plenty of time: The later you check in for your flight, the more likely it is that your bag won’t make it onto the plane.
Hang on to valuables: Don’t pack medicine, outfits for tomorrow’s event, jewelry, and other valuable items. It might take days for the airline to get your lost bag to you. Expensive items can also make bags more vulnerable to theft.
Prepare for the unexpected: Pack your carry-on bag as if it will be checked. Even if you didn’t plan to check your bag, you might not have a choice given today’s crowded overhead bins.
What to Do if Your Luggage Is Lost
Stay at the airport: File a claim with an airline representative before you leave the airport. Insist that he or she fill out a form and give you a copy. Get the agent’s name and an appropriate telephone number so you can follow up. But do not lose your cool, or he or she will be less inclined to help you.
Know your rights: New rules imposed last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation will require airlines to refund all checked baggage fees if luggage is lost. The rule will go into effect in August 2011. Also, keep in mind that airline liability per bag is only $3,300 for domestic flights (it varies for international flights): Yet another reason not to pack valuables!
Know what it’s in your bag: If your bag turns out to really be lost, the airline will want an itemized list of its contents. So, you may want to jot down a list of what’s in your bag ahead of time. Or, take a picture of your packed bag and its contents.
Ask about recovery: Before you leave the airport, ask the airline how you can get your bag when it arrives. Many airlines will deliver it to you at no charge. Some will also give you an advance or reimbursement for any items you must buy while your bag is missing. (It would help to go to the airline’s website after you leave to double check its policies on lost luggage.)
Follow up: Be proactive and polite when it comes to following up with the airline about your lost luggage. Reference your official lost bag claim number in all correspondence.