Do You Know Where Your PJs Are?
10 Ways to Avoid (or Survive) Lost Luggage
More luggage was lost this year than in any year since 1990 – 30 million bags failed to arrive on time, about 10,000 bags per day. Among the reasons: airline budget cuts, greater airport congestion, tight connection times, increased transfers among airlines and stricter security. In defense of the airlines, most bags are delayed – not lost forever – and on average are returned to their owners in 1.3 days or 31 hours after being reported missing. But even 1.3 days without your luggage is enough to cause enormous stress: imagine your delayed luggage missing the sailing of your cruise ship.
Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler (www.smartpacking.com) suggests travelers take the following steps to keep this from happening to their bag:
1. Use a sturdy ID tag with a durable strap on each bag. The best tags have a cover hiding your name to protect your privacy; use your business information if possible. Use your cell phone number and/or email address so you can be contacted immediately.
2. Include your identification information inside the bag. This is especially important if the outside tag is lost en route. Place a travel itinerary in an outside pocket or inside on the top so airlines can track you in transit if your bag is delayed or misrouted.
3. Mark your luggage in distinctive ways to distinguish your black bag in a sea of black bags. Tie bright ribbons onto the handles, apply stickers or your initials in large, colored stick-on letters on all sides, paint a design or a large X on the top and bottom – then take a digital photo of the bags. Should a bag be misplaced, show the photo to the baggage agent to illustrate the brand, shape, color and distinctive markings so your bag will be easier to identify and recover.
4. Remove any old baggage claim tags from your luggage as they cause confusion.
5. Check your bags as early as possible. Airlines suggest at least 90 minutes in advance (two hours for international travel) but at daily high-traffic times and with seasonal crowding you should add 30 minutes to this time. Last-minute checked bags simply may not make it through security screening and onto your plane.
6. Make sure that your bags have been ticketed to the correct destination and on the correct flight numbers before you leave the luggage check-in area or ticket counter.
If you do find yourself separated from your checked luggage, Foster has more tips for minimizing the inconvenience. Successfully surviving lost luggage is skill that most travelers learn the hard way once, and then create contingency plans for every future trip. When Pati’s luggage found it’s way to Japan for a month while she was traveling to six US cities for speaking engagements, she discovered that she could live quite well with the few things she had in her carry-on. It changed her personal travel packing forever.
7. Always carry medicines and anything that is valuable or not easily replaceable (including your keys) on your person or in a small "never check" carry-on bag. If it would break your heart to lose it, either keep it with you or leave it at home.
8. Travel in clothing you can wear for a day or two in case your bags are delayed, including appropriate shoes. Tuck a change of underwear into your carry-on bag plus a clean shirt so you have an item to wear and one to wash. Pack a swimsuit and/or shorts in your carry-on if headed to a sunny locale.
Ann wore comfortable black pants, a blue tee-shirt, and a blue/black/white-striped shirt with her comfortable walking shoes to fly to Europe for an Adriatic cruise. She arrived on schedule but her luggage did not. At the end of her weeklong, casual cruise she was finally reunited with her luggage as she prepared to fly home. Ann survived by being creative with her few pieces and through the generosity of other cruise passengers. She sums up her new way to travel light – “Borrow clothes! I received many compliments on the cruise for my ingenuity in the face of bad luck.”
Traveling with someone else? Ann recommends cross packing some of your clothing in their bag and some of theirs in your bag. “Rather than have a separate suitcase for each of us, if one bag is delayed at least we’d each have SOME clothes,” Ann suggested.
9. Complete lost-luggage reports at the airport and don't leave without a claim number and contact information so you can check the status of missing bags if one is missing in action. Keep baggage claim tags, tickets and receipts for your purchases, so the airline will be able to research your claim and reimburse you more quickly.
10. Always create a packing list that includes every item in each packed bag and leave a copy at home to retain an accurate record. Most travelers undervalue the contents of a lost bag because they can’t remember everything that was inside. Take a second copy of the packing list with you to check each time you unpack and repack to prevent forgetting items in the rush of departure.
Most importantly, remember it is not the end of the world or the ruin of a trip; it only feels like it at the moment when you are the last person waiting at the luggage carrousel. Pati and Ann were part of the lost luggage statistics but learned valuable travel lessons and became great survivors.
To help travelers avoid other luggage nightmares, Foster offers more great packing tips both in her book, Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler, and on her web site, www.smartpacking.com. Smart travelers plan ahead so that their memories are of the vacation or business deal, not of a travel disaster.