- Travel and Places
How to Prevent Lost Luggage
Do You Feel Lucky?
When you fly, do you check in your bags? Watch out: Once that bag leaves your side, anything could happen to it. For every 1,000 bags, the typical airline mishandles 6.
Sure, the odds don't sound too bad. But what if the dice doesn't roll in your favor one day? What do you do if the airline loses or damages your bag? More importantly, how do you prevent your bag from becoming a statistic?
I Know What I'm Talking About...
I've Seen it Happen Over and Over Again
I used to work for an airline as a baggage agent, which meant I had to handle reports on mishandled luggage all the time. Most of the passengers I dealt with were understandably upset, but easy to soothe. Others were practically foaming at the mouth because they had packed a wedding dress, medication, or something else of great value in their missing bag.
I have witnessed bags getting caught in the luggage carousel. Once or twice, I had no choice but to whip out a pair of scissors and cut a duffel bag loose.
I have seen bags drenched from the rain. I have seen bags covered in shampoo. I have seen bags with mangled wheels and missing handles.
Considering all the things that can happen, I'm frankly amazed that most checked bags return to their owners unscathed!
How Do Bags Get Lost Or Left Behind?
The baggage handling system is a complicated beast. Anything can go wrong! However, here are some common reasons why bags get damaged or delayed:
- Tight Connections - You should give yourself at least an hour for both you and your bag to reach a connecting flight. Even then, things happen.
- Bag Jams - Sometimes a bag will get stuck somewhere on a conveyor belt, causing a blockage.
- Bag Switches - Someone doesn't pay attention and runs off with your bag by mistake.
- Late Check-Ins - Because the bag was checked in late, the airline didn't have time to get it to the airplane.
- Full Flight - If a lot of people are flying and everyone checks in one or two big bags, there may not be room for all of them.
- Weight and Balance Issues - This is a complicated yet very important issue that sometimes leads to bags being left off the plane. This comes up a lot with smaller planes. Too much weight could mean that the plane burns too much fuel or is unable to take off safely.
- Missing Tags - Sometimes the bag tag gets torn off when it goes through the conveyor belt system. Without the tag, airline employees can't determine where your bag needs to go.
- Misread Tags - Baggage handlers who are distracted or in a hurry sometimes just plain misread a tag and load a bag onto the wrong plane.
Best Way to Protect Your Bags: Don't Check Them
Always carry-on your luggage whenever possible. That's the only way to guarantee that the airline won't mishandle your bag.
Be aware of the airline's carry-on restrictions: Most airlines allow one carry-on bag plus one personal item.
In general, you're allowed a bag that measures no more than 45" linear inches. That should be the number you get after you add up the bag's width, length, and height. 22 x 14 x 9 is standard.
Weight restrictions vary wildly. Most domestic airlines are generous, often letting you carry as much as 40 pounds worth of stuff. International airlines, however, can be quite stingy: Some international airlines demand carry-on bags to be so light, you couldn't get away with packing a laptop! Make sure you know the airline's weight restrictions ahead of time.
Rising Cost of Checked Luggage
Checked Baggage Fees Going Up!
Airlines are hurting from the rising cost of fuel, and they're passing on those costs to us, the passengers. Not only are the prices of tickets going up, baggage fees are on the rise. Bags add extra weight to the plane, which means they have to burn more fuel, which means it's gonna cost you.
It used to be airlines would at least allow you to check one bag for free, but that luxury has become a thing of the past. You can expect to be charged a minimum of $15 to $20 to check in a bag. Heaven help you if your bag is overweight or oversized, because checking it in could add an extra hundred dollars (or more) to your fare.
And no, they probably won't reimburse you if they manage to lose or damage your bag. This is yet another reason to avoid checking in bags. Or a good reason to mail stuff to your destination in advance.
Forward Your Bag
If you can afford it, you could always use a luggage forwarding service to have your bag picked up and delivered to your destination. It will likely cost more than $100, but it could be worth it depending on your circumstances. It's worth looking into if you're traveling with a large musical instrument.
Do an online search for "luggage delivery," and you'll find companies that specialize in this.
But if You Must Check a Bag...
If you decide to check a bag, there are some things you can do to protect it.
First, always put your contact information in your bag. Print out a copy of your itinerary and lay it on top of your clothes. Have your phone number and address on both the inside and outside of your bag. Better yet, include information about where you'll be staying. That way if the bag is ever misplaced, the airline has an easier time reuniting you with it.
Check in early for your flight. If you check in late, the airline may not be able to load the bag onto the plane in time.
Remove old airline tags. Otherwise your bag could get loaded on the wrong flight.
Give yourself at least an hour to reach connecting flights. Better yet, try to avoid connecting flights if possible. Connections create more opportunities for something to go wrong.
What Happens to Your Bag After You Check It?
Watch Toy Story 2 for an Educational Experience!
If you'd like to see what happens to checked bags, watch the airport scene in Toy Story 2. Not everything is accurate, but certain scenes ring true. You can tell that those guys at Pixar did their homework.
Watch when Buzz, Woody, and the gang suddenly enter a world full of conveyor belts. It's a highway system for bags! It's an amazing system that determines where each bag has to go, just by scanning the bar code on each bag tag. (The bag tags are missing in Toy Story 2.)
Once the bag reaches the end of its conveyor belt journey, it's loaded onto a cart with a bunch of other bags. Then the bags are taken to the airplane.
In the Toy Story movie, watch how the baggage handlers load the bags onto the plane. Or if you prefer, listen for the sound of breaking glass!
Now, the lickety-split departure of the plane... THAT would never happen in real life.
Why are Baggage Handlers so Rough on the Bags?
Some people are appalled by the sight of a baggage handler slamming bag after bag onto a conveyor belt. Abuse, abuse! How dare they!
The thing is, that's how they're supposed to handle the bags. Loading and unloading bags is something that must be done quickly. The baggage handlers might strike you as being rough on the bags, but they have to work fast and follow proper lifting techniques to protect their backs.
A lot of those bags are heavy, sometimes more than 50 lbs. If the baggage handlers were to gently lift each bag and carefully rest it on the conveyor belt, the plane would not be able to depart on schedule. They would also increase their risk of back injury.
Don't Pack Medication or Valuables in Your Checked Bag
Don't ever, ever, EVER pack medication in any bag you plan to check in!!!
This one still surprises me, and it always leaves me shaking my head. You are gambling with your life when you pack medication into your checked luggage. Anything could happen to that bag.
For that matter, don't pack any other valuables in your bag such as money, passports, important documents, jewelry, house keys, etc.
In other words, don't pack anything in your checked luggage that you can't afford to lose.
Pack Extra Clothes and Essentials in Your Carry-On Bag
If you'd rather avoid the possibility of having to wear the same pair of underwear for a few days, you'd be wise to pack extra clothes in your carry-on luggage. Just in case. Your carry-on luggage is also a good place for your toothbrush and other essentials.
This is especially important if you're traveling to a foreign country or going on a cruise ship, where you may not be able to purchase all the extras you need.
What About Toiletries?
Thanks to a lovely terrorist plot involving British sports drinks and explosive gels that was uncovered in August of 2006, the rest of us have to comply with strict carry-on rules when it comes to toiletries.
The infamous 3-1-1 rule: Each passenger is entitled to a clear 1-quart zip lock bag, which will contain 3 ounce bottles of liquids. That's all you can put in your carry-on bag.
But what if that isn't enough? You have a few options:
- Buy your necessities once you reach your destination: Unfortunately a wasteful option, since you won't be able to take it back with you in your carry-on bag.
- Stay in hotels that provide shampoo: Granted, hotels won't provide everything you need, but at least that can free up a little room in your zip lock bag for other stuff. I also like reusing the hotel bottles.
- Buy non-liquid products: Indeed, some companies such as Lush are manufacturing toiletries in bar and powder form. That includes toothpaste and shampoo. There are even sunscreens and bug repellants in towelette form.
311 Travel Bag: An Alternative to the Zip Lock Bag
Many travelers hate using those flimsy little zip lock bags for their toiletries, and rightly so. You can't fit much in there and they pop open easily. That's why one woman came up with the 311 Travel Bag.
Apparently this clear plastic bag is TSA approved, so they shouldn't hassle you about it. (Key word is shouldn't; I wouldn't guarantee it, knowing how inconsistent TSA employees can be.) It looks better, holds more, and comes with refillable spill-proof pumps.
The 311 Travel Bag costs about $30. If you do a lot of traveling and the dinky little zip lock bags just aren't cutting it, this might be worth looking into.
As far as luggage brands go, Skyway has a good reputation. A Skyway bag may not be the most fashionable thing on the block, but it will be durable, functional, and often lightweight. They also conform to most airlines' baggage size restrictions. Those are the qualities you want most in a travel bag.
Don't Pack Fragile Items in Checked Luggage
Pack all your fragile items in your carry-on bag. This is the safest place for them.
Because of all the things that checked baggage can go through, airlines won't take responsibility for anything that happens to fragile items. If you check in something that's fragile, most airlines will make you sign a form that limits their liability.
If you're traveling with a large musical instrument, you can do what some musicians do when they fly: Buy an extra seat for it.
Travel with a Unique Bag
Bag switches are more common than you might think. In my experience, bags are rarely stolen; most people just get mixed up and grab a bag that looks like theirs.
That's not surprising. Most travelers are in a hurry, and most bags look the same. Black, black, black!
To prevent this from happening, travel with an unusual bag. Not too many people are going to be carrying around a mustard-yellow suitcase.
If you already have a generic black bag, dress it up with something unique. Tie some ribbons around the handle, or attach a colorful pompom.
Bonus: If the airline misplaces the bag, they will have an easy time finding and identifying it!
Don't Travel with Expensive Designer Bags
There are two reasons why you shouldn't check in a Gucci or Louis Vuitton bag: 1) It could get damaged; 2) It's an invitation for thieves.
Checked bags get a lot of abuse. Remember the commercial of a gorilla tearing up some bags? That's not too far from reality. Bags are tossed onto conveyor belts, left out in the rain, and buried underneath other bags. That's the way it goes. Unfortunately, no airline employee has the time to baby anyone's bag.
If the bag gets a little scuffed up, the airline is not going to do anything about it. As far as the airline is concerned, the bag serves but one purpose: To protect the stuff inside. That the bag got a little scratched proves that it did its job well!
The only way you can hope that the airline will repair/replace your bag is if it is crushed, mangled, or otherwise rendered useless as a bag.
By the way, most airlines don't cover wheel damage.
Don't Overpack Your Bag
A heavy bag that's bulging at the seams is more likely to get damaged. Overstuffed bags put more stress on the seams, zippers, and handles. A super heavy bag is asking for a broken handle, a rip, or a popped seam.
Something else to remember: If the airline determines that your bag was damaged due to overpacking, they definitely won't replace it or pay for any repairs.
Don't Lock Your Checked Bag
Or Only Use TSA Approved Locks
TSA does not want anyone locking their bags. They want to be able to search your bag easily.
In fact, if TSA even sees a lock, they might cut it off EVEN IF YOUR BAG ISN'T ACTUALLY LOCKED. I once had a lock attached to my bag, but the bag was not actually locked, and TSA destroyed the lock anyway.
If you want to lock your bag, you can buy a TSA lock instead. This is a lock that TSA will be able to unlock themselves if they feel the need to search your bag. However, this is no guarantee that TSA won't make a mistake and cut the lock anyway. Yes, I'm afraid this has actually happened.
Lens of the Day!
This lens received the honor of being Lens of the Day on December 20, 2007. It was a great day. Special thanks to everyone who rated this lens and left great comments!