Following on from my earlier post about the delightful couple who went on a luggage-stealing spree, I thought it was a good time to look at tips to avoid losing your luggage. There’s not much you can do about kleptomaniacs, of course, but there are certainly things you can do to lessen your chances of being the muppet still standing at the baggage carousel when it stops turning (oh, how I hate that feeling).
Despite technological advances that allow for better tracking of checked-in luggage, more than 33 million pieces of luggage were ‘mishandled’ by airlines last year, according to figures from aviation consultancy SITA. And while a good deal of them were eventually returned to their rightful owners, that’s still a lot of grumpy passengers!
Don’t push it
If you are going to be checking in luggage, the most important thing is to avoid tight connections. “The single biggest problem for baggage handlers is when bags are being transferred from one aircraft to another,” says SITA. Bags mishandled in transit accounted for 49 per cent of all mishandled luggage last year. The second biggest cause was ‘failed to load’, which accounted for 16 per cent of missing bags. Make sure you arrive at the airport in plenty of time before your flight to lessen this risk.
When possible, travel with carry-on baggage only. Many airlines are now charging fees for checked bags, so this will not only reduce the likelihood of lost luggage but save you money too. Pack mix and match clothes, make do with one or two pairs of shoes, buy toiletries when you get there and use hotel laundry facilities or hand washing as you go. US Airways reports that checked-in luggage has reduced by 20 per cent since it introduced luggage fees – it seems people can travel light when they want to.
An obvious piece of advice, perhaps, but one that many travellers still fail to follow. Checked in bags need to be tagged with tough labels, not flimsy ones that rip off when snagged. It is best for security reasons to get a tag that hides your home address inside the tag and you should always include your mobile number with country code. If the airline gives you a label, put that on too. You can’t have too many.
Prepare for the worst
If you are checking in your luggage, it is a good idea to have a change of clothes and some toiletries in your hand luggage. Always carry your documents and money on you, rather than in luggage. And if you are travelling to a cold climate, carry your warm coat on board rather than check it in (you only make that mistake once, trust me).
Don’t tempt fate
While a non-descript black suitcase is awfully hard to find in a mountain of lost luggage, flashy luggage is not a great idea either. Expensive looking luggage is more of a temptation to thieves, while valuable contents are more of a temptation to unscrupulous baggage handlers. Tamper-evident seals or cable ties can be used on some routes, but remember that the USA requires that all luggage can be opened by security staff, so you need TSA-approved locks if you’re travelling there.
Insure for the worst
Make sure you have adequate travel insurance to cover your luggage and any electronic items such as laptops and cameras. Many policies have per-item limits that are not enough to cover expensive items. Also look for a policy that provides an allowance for essentials such as clothes and toiletries in the case of delayed luggage.
If you do lose a bag in your travels, make sure you hang onto the baggage receipt – usually stuck to the back of your boarding pass folder. Baggage numbers drop out of airline systems after a few days and once that happens you’re looking for a needle in a haystack (in case you’re wondering, yes, I also learnt that one by experience!).
Copyright Jane E. Fraser