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Preventing lost luggage: what you need to know

AuthorThe AirHelper

Packing for a trip is incredibly stressful, and losing that luggage may ruin a trip.

US airline passengers pay about $3 billion each year to check their luggage, a 700% increase from 5 years ago. Even with this cost, airlines lose 2 million bags every year, making it the number two complaint fliers have about airlines (first is flight delays and cancellations.)

 On international flights, the problem is even worse ––26 million pieces of checked luggage went missing in 2011.

According to airline information and technology company SITA, 81.2% of mishandled bags were delayed, (most due to mishandling during transfers), 15.5% were damaged, and 3.3% were lost or stolen.

Thankfully charging for checked luggage has made the airlines more attentive about keeping track of bags, since mistakes can be costly. Besides unhappy customers, it costs an airline $100 plus refunds on any checked luggage fees to reunite a lost bag with a flier.

To provide some sense of security, select airlines allow customers to monitor their luggage online once it’s checked. But it’s unclear if the monitoring for airlines like Delta and American Airlines happens in real time, but these websites are worth exploring to see if this feature is an option for you.

 Here are some steps to take when packing for a trip, which will help protect you from losing luggage and assist in the recovery process if something is lost.

  1. Things to do right before you leave
  • Put ID tags on the inside and outside of your bags, in the event that the outside tag is destroyed
  • Keep a copy of your itinerary inside the bag
  • Take a photo of your luggage contents, if you have to claim for lost items with an insurer later
  • Take a photo of your bags
  • Protect your luggage with zip-top bags: It’s surprising how often bags are left out in the rain or thrown into a messy situation, ruining your checked items (one passenger found his bag covered in thick oil. Yikes)
  1. Invest in the right luggage
  • Buy high quality luggage with a guarantee. You’ll have better zippers and it’s less likely that your bag will break and be caught on a conveyor belt
  • Replace worn luggage. If a bag is broken it’s less likely to reach its destination
  • Buy TSA approved locks. If your bag must be searched by authorities while it’s in transit, TSA agents have a universal key so your lock won’t be destroyed

III. Prevent theft

Many baggage handlers are subcontractors and luggage theft has increased in the past few years. It’s a struggle to get local law enforcement involved with luggage theft, so be sure you don’t pack anything you can’t afford to lose.

  • Arrive at the baggage carousel quickly to avoid stolen bags
  • Avoid expensive looking luggage
  • Don’t put a business card as your luggage tag. A thief will look for higher priced items and a business card means a well-paid professional owns the bag
  • Don’t put gifts in bags during holiday season

What to do if your luggage is lost or delayed

If you follow these tips and your luggage is still lost, it’s important that you complete lost baggage forms in the airport immediately after the incident. You’ll need flight information, claim tickets, and a description of the bag.

What you’re entitled to:

Flying in the United States:

In the US, liability is limited to $3,000 per bag. However, there’s a lot of variability between airlines’ policies, so check with your airline for details. The Department of Transportation does little to regulate what passengers are entitled to when bags go missing, but most will reimburse you for basic necessities.

 Flying in Europe:

If your bag is lost in Europe, you’ll need to fill out a Property Irregularity Report at your airline’s help desk. Most bags are retrieved within a few days, but after 21 days the bag is deemed lost. At this point you can make a claim for compensation from the airline.

The airline is liable to pay out for the luggage under the Montreal Convention, but the amount paid varies by airline. If your bag is delayed, most airlines will cover the cost of essentials like toiletries or a change of clothes, but check with your airline first and be sure to keep a receipt of all purchases. When making a claim, the airline may want to see a list of what was in the bag and receipts to prove you own the items, so present the photos you took of your luggage and packed items.



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