Last week I read a great article by Andrew Tarantola about what to do if an airline loses your luggage. Having been in this situation myself a few years ago (because of a flight cancellation that resulted in my having to catch a totally different flight), I could totally relate. So, with summer vacations now in full swing, here is a rundown of some of the best advice for checked luggage.
Leverage Your Hand Luggage
I know no-one wants to be schlepping unnecessary things in their hand luggage but sometimes embracing the boy scout “be prepared” mantra makes sense. Take for instance my own lost luggage incident. Ever since that fateful trip, I make sure to carry my valuables with me. (Did I tell you that my wedding-day necklace was in my checked luggage – shame on me)? I also make sure to pack a spare shirt and set of under garments thanks to my husband’s disastrous business trip to Kazakhstan…where he was stranded without his luggage for four days!
Another thing to keep in your hand luggage is important medication that you cannot manage without.
Make Your Luggage Easy to Identify
Sure I have talked about this before but, in a sea of black bags, making your luggage stand out at baggage claim will not only help you quickly identify your bag, but it will also help prevent other passengers from mistakenly walking off with it. (And yes it does happen). Think about tying colorful ribbons or unusual luggage tags to your bag handles. Or even purchase a bag that looks different to the standard black wheelie. And please check the name tag or bag tag number after you pull (what you think is) your bag off the carousel.
Pack a Luggage Tracker
Today, you can get trackers for your phones, your cars, your pets. And now (it seems), you can also get trackers for your luggage. So if you want the peace of mind of knowing exactly where your bags are, you can turn to the likes of Trakdot (for $50 plus activation and service fee) or iTRAK (for $20) to keep tabs on your wheelie’s location.
There is also new luggage technology underway from Airbus that embeds a satellite tracker and a bar code display directly into the suitcase itself – thereby eliminating the need for the paper bag tags that are attached to your luggage at the airport. With this technology, it is possible to alert flight crew (once on board your plane) if your bags are not in the hold. And, if they are loaded onto the wrong aircraft, the combination of satellite technology and bar code makes them easily traceable.
Know Your Rights
Just like knowing your airline’s contract of carriage when your flight is cancelled, you should also know your rights when it comes to lost bags. For instance, in the U.S., the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that the airline compensate you for the value of the permanently lost bag and its contents. It also requires airlines to provide victims of delayed baggage with a stipend to buy items like clothing, toiletries, and medicines.
As soon as you know your bag is lost, or damaged file a claim immediately. Ideally this means before you leave the airport! In fact some airlines require you to report within only a few hours of landing. For instance United Airlines expects you to report (in writing) to the Baggage Service Office no later than 4 hours after discovering the problem and American Airlines has a 12 hour limit. With that in mind, the best approach is to report the loss or damage to airline personnel at the airport – either at the claims office in baggage claim or back at a check-in counter. And make sure you get a copy of the report they file, as well as an appropriate number for following up before you leave. Also make sure you understand your airline’s policy with regard to what types of articles may or may not be reimbursable – such as clothing. And be sure to keep all receipts regardless.
If you can’t resolve the claim with the airline’s airport staff, the DOT website recommends that you “keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, and hold on to all travel documents and receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling” so that you have all the facts when you follow up with airline’s consumer office.
In addition, if you feel that your problem hasn’t been adequately addressed by the airline, Mr. Tarantola suggests filing a complaint with the DOT.