My family just got back from Turkey, and temporarily had to deal with lost luggage. While most of their trip went smoothly, one of the bumps on the road they hit was when Turkish Airlines forgot to load their luggage onto the plane in Istanbul. Luckily, their luggage was simply delayed and not actually lost, and better yet, it happened on their way home where they have other clothes and necessities available.
Still, hiccups like this are annoying and can throw you for a loop if they happen on your way to a destination. I’ve got a simple approach for how to avoid lost luggage as best as possible and what to do if your luggage is indeed delayed.
Pack a Carry-On
Whenever possible, I pack carry-on only. I’ve packed as much as two months worth of items into a carry-on suitcase without issue, but I recognize this isn’t always an option. If there’s even a slight chance you’ll be letting someone else handle your bag, pack a carry-on that will hold enough essentials to hold you over for a day or two. Keep your valuables, medications, keys, and a change of underwear with you and/or cross pack with a companion.
Document Your Belongings
If you’ve ever filled out a form for missing luggage, you’ve probably seen the agent sigh a little as you explain that your bag is a nondescript black suitcase with wheels. In this case, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so snap a quick photo with your phone, making sure to get any identifying details in the picture (such as a colorful ribbon or baggage tag). If you have anything even remotely valuable inside the bag, you may also want to photograph that as well or maybe write down a packing list. Usually bags are only delayed and not actually lost or stolen, so hopefully you won’t need that information to make a claim, but you never know.
Check It Smartly
If you do check a bag, make sure you arrive at the airport with enough time to check the bag without employees having to scramble to make sure it gets on the plane. Double-check that your address tag is securely attached to the bag, and better yet, throw a business card or copy of your itinerary inside the bag just in case the external tag comes off. Confirm the barcodes and routing to ensure it’s coded to go to the right place at the right time. That won’t solve all issues, but may help you catch something ahead of time. Hold onto your tracking receipt (or valet ticket stub) just in case you need it later on.
Report Your Bags Early
Even when you do everything right, some bags still end up delayed, and it’s usually at the most inconvenient time. I know you just spent 21 hours trying to get home, but deal with the issue ASAP instead of waiting until later. Remember that anyone working at the baggage office has probably spent all day dealing with upset customers and is possibly just as frustrated as you, so remain polite, pay compliments when appropriate, and avoid getting confrontational because it’s not their fault. As with all customer service requests, there’s an art to balancing sternness and friendliness which can work wonders. If you flew with multiple carriers on one ticket, speak with the airline on the last segment of your trip and they will mediate with the other airlines if necessary to track it down. No matter what, make sure you get a tracking number for your claim before leaving.
Know Your Entitled Benefits and Compensation
Many airlines will offer token amenity kits or small amounts of cash reimbursement to hold you over if your luggage is lost for a few days. However, their definition of “necessities” may be much more restrictive than yours, which is why having some basics with you in your carry-on can be a good idea. Additionally, some credit cards (Chase cards like the Sapphire, Ink, Freedom or AmEx Platinum as a small subset) may also offer reimbursements as part of the included travel benefits. Rules vary and often require all purchases from the airfare itself to your newly purchased socks to be charged on that card, so it’s worth reading up on your benefits before buying anything. If your bag is completely lost or damaged, airlines will offer you some reimbursement, though liability maximums vary by carrier. Keep in mind that the airlines will typically only reimburse at the depreciated value, which in some cases could be quite a bit less than the original or replacement cost, and often claims will require documentation (making those photos you took earlier a smart idea). If you check bags frequently and/or are checking valuable items, you may want to look into supplemental travel insurance.
My personal experience (and second-hand stories) has been that airlines are usually pretty good at finding bags and getting them on their way to you without too much effort on your part after the initial claim (though that 1+ days will feel like an eternity while you are waiting). However, if your bag isn’t found and/or delivered quickly, be sure to follow up every day or so using the claim number you received. Some airlines (AA, for example) will let you check your bag status online while with others you may need to call or use social media.
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