David Abolafia

Lost Luggage: What You Should Know

David Abolafia


For vacationers and businesspeople who travel by plane, checking a bag means more time getting through the airport on both ends. Depending on which airline you’re using, it may also entail paying a fee. And, of course, there’s the age-old concern of your luggage simply getting lost or damaged.

Believe it or not, the airline industry is getting better at baggage handling – and those aforementioned bag fees have played a large part in the change. Once airlines started charging their passengers to check bags, those passengers, in turn, raised their expectations. And with baggage suddenly bringing in revenue, the airlines could afford to invest in better equipment to help ensure that luggage gets where it’s supposed to. Add to this equation – or subtract, if you will – the fact that many travelers, in an effort to avoid paying baggage fees, began to pack lighter. If you could fit your essentials into a carry-on, why wouldn’t you spare yourself the inconvenience and the added cost? This reduced the number of suitcases that airlines had to deal with, and the lighter load led to fewer problems.

Another issue is direct cost. It costs airlines approximately $100 per bag to reunite “lost” luggage with its owners and, surprisingly, that happens in 97 percent of incidents (81 percent return unharmed, 16 percent arrive with either damage or missing contents). In other words, only 3 percent of lost luggage stays that way. But still, at $100 apiece, the overall cost for mishandled baggage totals in the billions each year. That’s not even counting the refunds on baggage fees that customers can claim when luggage is delayed, damaged or disappeared.

Still, the system isn’t perfect, and bags do go missing – even temporarily. Should this happen to you, it’s important to know what to do, in order to improve the odds of the lost items being found.

  1. Don’t leave the airport. It can be tempting – after a long flight, an interminable wait at baggage claim and seeing all the suitcases get taken off the carousel – to want to go home and deal with the situation in the morning. Not a good idea. Instead, track down an airline representative and file a report as soon as possible. This also applies to cases where your bag was damaged in transit. If you leave, not only will you have to schlep the broken suitcase back to the airport, but you’ll also run into a “chain of custody” issue. Who’s to say the bag didn’t get damaged while in your possession? Do you really want the headache? Of course not. So stay in the terminal and file a report.
  2. Keep your cool. This may be the most critical step in getting your bag back. You’re tired. You’re frustrated. You want to vent. I get it. The airline even gets it. But the friendly uniformed employee in the claim office isn’t the one who lost your luggage. As much as you may want to project your anger, don’t. There are several reasons why screaming and yelling are counterproductive in this scenario. Remember, that friendly person is your best hope for locating your suitcase, so don’t you want him/her on your side? Chances are, as part of the job, he/she has to deal with cranky flyers much of the day; if you’re one of the nice ones, you’re likely to get more attentive service. Further, if you get yourself all riled up, you may not be in the best frame of mind to describe the lost items, making the process that much harder for everyone.
  3. Don’t expect more attention or a faster response when you claim that you had a lot of valuables in the missing bag. One, you shouldn’t have packed valuables in your suitcase in the first place (put them in your carry-on or wear them; or, better yet, don’t bring them). And two, the airline likely isn’t responsible for them anyway. Read the fine print; you’ll be surprised at how many things are disallowed by airline disclaimers. And airline liability per passenger (not per bag) is only $3,400 – and that’s considering the depreciated value of those items that are actually covered. Face it: Bringing valuables with you is just asking for trouble.
  4. Know what’s in your bag. If your luggage is misplaced, the airline is going to want an itemized list of what was in it. So it’s a good idea to make a packing list, just in case. And be sure that you have ID with contact information on tags outside and inside the bag.
  5. Don’t give up. Once you file a lost luggage claim, the airline will issue you a claim number and will tell you that they’ll be in touch. But chances are, you’ll have more luck if you’re proactive and keep in contact on a regular basis. In all exchanges, whether by phone or email, be brief and polite. Include your claim number and flight information. Keep at it until you get some sort of resolution. Remember the old adage: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

When all is said and done, losing a suitcase – or the fear of losing a suitcase – shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying your well-deserved vacation. To plan your next trip – no matter whether you’ll be checking your bags or carrying them on – give us a call at (888) 269-0182.


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