Lost Luggage Blues - when yours never comes up on carousel!

Lost luggage blues – when yours never comes up on carousel!

Lost luggage, and checked luggage in general  are a hot topic at the moment thanks to this event in Phoenix and the recent call by the US Senate to suspend baggage fees.

The two items seem – and are – quite at odds with one another; I suspect that as bad as TSA lines are we are going to have a battle on our hands to get more travelers to check their bags.

We now have a pretty thick narrative around checked bags – primarily that they are easily and often lost. So I thought this was a good time to repost something I wrote about a year ago.

Lost Bag Blues and How to Sing Them

If you have ever experienced a lost bag on a flight, you know the feeling.

Standing in front of the baggage carousel, your heart begins to droop. Everyone around you has grabbed a bag or four and left. Now it’s just you, the empty baggage claim hall and the endlessly spinning carousel. Your bag isn’t there.

No matter how long you stare, it isn’t going to arrive.

A client of mine just went through this. Twice. In one week. Argh!

Lost luggage is on the decline, or so SITA – the people who keep stats on everything airline travel related – tell us. But that is small comfort when it is YOUR bag that has just become one of those statistics.

My client is a road warrior. He travels a couple of weeks a month. From short hops to heading to the other coast, he is in airports a lot. Because these are all work trips, a lost bag means not having a change of clothes for his meeting in the morning.

For leisure travelers a lost bag is not much less traumatic. Hooray! I’m in Berlin, my long dreamed of trip to Germany… and all my worldly possessions are taking a separate vacation.

Even with all the automation that airlines and airports have put in place, bags are going to go missing. The reasons are legion, from a mis-routed bag to a harried baggage loader, but that doesn’t matter when it is your bag, right?

What can you do to make this possibility a bit less painful? A goodly amount, actually.

Short of hauling everything with you onto the plane and wrestling all of it into the overhead bin, there is still a lot you can do.

First off, think about what you pack into checked baggage. Anything that you cannot do without for 24 hours should go in carry on. Prescription medication should never go in a checked bag. I don’t care how short the flight is, never ever ever put your medication in your checked bag.

This goes beyond  lost luggage – if your flight is delayed or *gulp* cancelled, chances are you aren’t going to have access to that medication for a very long time. So please, just don’t do it.

Think really hard about what you will need to get through 24 hours after you land. Contact lens solution? A change of underwear? Toothbrush? Really, you don’t need that much when it comes down to it. You might want everything, but the reality what you actually need is pretty small.

Secondly, make sure your name and contact info are both on and in your bag. If something happens to the outside – if that really cute baggage tag gets pulled off, if the bag gets mangled, whatever; having a second set of identification in the bag could be the difference between getting your stuff back or not. This isn’t hard, get a 3 X 5 card, right down your last name and a number where you can be reached, stick it on top of your clothes. Done.

Do yourself a favor and look at the routing tag before the counter or TSA agent puts it on the conveyor, cart, or whatever. This stuff is automated, but mistakes do happen. Just take a quick look to make sure that your destination and that of the bag are the same. Don’t worry about offending the agent; they actually appreciate your diligence. The best ones will even show you the tag and say the destination before they send it on its way. They want your bag to arrive with you.

But let’s say you do all of that – like my client did – and the bag still goes missing. Then what?

Do not ever leave the airport without talking to a bag claim agent. Even if they – as they sometimes do – want to give you a phone number or a website to make the claim. Stay there until you have talked to a human, filled out a missing bag form and gotten a claim or report number.

Let me say it one more time – Do Not Ever Leave The Airport Without Talking to a Bag Claim Agent.

Next, take a lot of deep breaths. The agent should be calm, courteous and respectful, but should and are? Vastly different things. No matter what, get the name of the agent who took your claim. Even if they are the nicest human on the planet, get their name. Always easier to get things done when you can say “Angie in Minneapolis took my claim and told me…” or, in the worst case, you can tell the airline who it was who acted like a jerk.

Also, keep receipts of anything you have to buy to get you through the night. You may be entitled to reimbursement, depending on how long your bag goes missing.

And finally, if you are staying in a hotel – check with the desk clerk when you check in. Explain the situation. Many hotels will have a little necessities bag to help you out; nothing fancy just toothpaste, a toothbrush, etc. depending on the property. If they don’t have it, they will know where you can find it. Let the desk clerk know that you will (hopefully) have a bag delivered by the airlines. They appreciate the head’s up, and will often deliver the bag to your room.

Remember – the Lost Bag Blues don’t have to be sung very long. The vast majority of lost bags are returned to their owners within 24 hours. Having a few things to get you through that time will allow you to get on with your vacation, your business meeting, whatever until you and your luggage are reunited.

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