6 Ways to Keep Airlines from Losing Your Bags – and 4 Tips if it Happens Anyway

While you are powerless to prevent lost or damaged baggage, there is something you can do to make sure that your bags are eventually found or repaired, and that you are properly reimbursed.

When it comes to their passengers, airlines have an exceptional safety record. When it comes to handling checked bags, their record is lousy. Although it is not an issue of safety, lost and damaged luggage is one of the more terrifying possibilities we face when traveling. Although the Unclaimed Baggage Center claims that “Only about ½ of 1 percent of checked bags fail to show up at the baggage carousel,” it certainly feels like it happens more often than that. Nevertheless, keep in mind that there are several steps you can take to manage these risks…

Before you fly

  1. Buy inexpensive luggage. Luggage is designed to protect its contents, not survive conveyer belts and baggage handlers. If you’re very lucky, your bags will only get scuffed, scraped, and soiled. Many other folks will eventually find their bags damaged beyond repair or lost. So why invest in a pricey set from a name brand?
  2. Never check valuables. It can’t be repeated often enough: Carry on all money, medications, glasses, keys, jewelry, and electronics. If you’re not sure what’s considered valuable, simply read the airline’s luggage policy to learn what it will not reimburse you for in the event your bags are lost. Take everything else with you.
  3. If you must check it, insure it. Some items are considered valuable but the airlines won’t let you carry them on – like expensive sporting equipment, bulky electronics, or large musical instruments. Thankfully, you can purchase extra insurance for checked bags at a reasonable price. For example, American Airlines charges $2 for each $100 purchased, with a maximum of $5,000.
  4. Carry on essentials for your destination. Since you’d rather spend the first few days enjoying your vacation rather than shopping for replacements, ask yourself what you’d need on your trip if your bag were delayed for a few days. Also consider what would be the most time-consuming and expensive items to replace. For example, pack your bathing suit in your carry-on when you’re vacationing at the beach, and your hat, gloves, and goggles when you’re skiing.
  5. Go crazy with name tags. I normally put at least two luggage tags on each bag and include something with my name on it on the inside. To do otherwise raises the terrifying possibility that your lost bag will eventually be sold off at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama.
  6. Keep receipts. When you buy clothing or other travel items, save the receipts. You never know when your bag will be lost and you might be asked to document the cost of your property in order to be properly reimbursed.

After your flight

  1. Never leave the airport without filing a claim. Remember Dave Carroll, the guy who wrote a song about how “United Breaks Guitars“? His outrage was sparked not just because his guitar was damaged, but due to his claim being denied. In that instance, the airline maintained that he filed his official claim form too late – more than 24 hours after arriving. Actually, you should never wait close to that long. Always inspect your bag and make your claim with the airline before leaving the airport.
  2. Document your claim. If your bag is damaged, take plenty of pictures of it. If your bag is lost, that will be the time to find your envelope of receipts. Finally, always ask for a copy of the airline’s lost baggage report. It will contain a tracking number and contact information to follow your claim.
  3. Follow up. Your airline already lost or damaged your bag, so what makes you think that your claim will be handled any better? Stay on their case regularly to ensure that you are given a new bag, a settlement check, or both.
  4. Request a refund of baggage fees. Airlines are now required to refund baggage fees for lost luggage that’s never found, but this regulation doesn’t compel them to do so in the case of damage or delay. Nevertheless, you should still insist on reimbursement in these instances. I’ve received reimbursement for baggage fees when a bag was delayed for an extended period. If denied by your airline, you may also request a chargeback from your credit card company for services not provided.

Follow these tips to make sure that the airline’s bad service doesn’t cost you money or ruin your vacation.

Stacy Johnson

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  • I always try to follow the rule about never checking electronics but airlines are getting so bad about overbooking these days that frequently now the boarding attendants announce before you even board your flight that everyone in seating zone 4 should check all carryons that don’t fit under the seat because the overhead bins are full.  As a photographer, my carry-on is chuck full of my cameras and accessories, my netbook that I use to backup my images while in the field, and electronic medical equipment that I need because of health issues – several thousand dollars worth in total.  So, I carry a small collapsible bag the size of a medium-sized purse inside the larger rolling carry-on that will hold all of my cameras, chargers, etc, (since most of my travel is related to my photography) and consolidate my prescription medications and medical equipment in another bag that fits under the seat.  That leaves only my netbook (worth only $300) and my “essentials” in my original carryon.

    On the way to a photoshoot in Naples, Italy my luggage was lost and didn’t show up for a month.  I at least had my photography equipment with me so I could complete the work I had scheduled and bought a few essentials at a street fair to get me through the week.  

  • Brian Walker

    Luggage Tags:  I travel a lot and have never had bags lost.  Delayed, yes, but not lost. 1:  Put your name, address and Cell Phone number inside the bag where it’s easy to find.  2:  Put the address of where you are going on this leg of the trip.  If you are flying to Las Vegas, put your name and hotel where you are staying.  Trust me, there’s nothing better than having the front desk call you a couple hours after check in letting you know your bags just arrived!

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