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How to Avoid Lost Luggage and What to Do About Lost Luggage

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Lost luggage:

It happens, but you can learn how to avoid lost luggage in transit and what to do if it does happen to you. Let's look first at a few tips on keeping your bags from traveling without you; at the bottom of the page, we'll talk about what to do if an airline has lost luggage (you're less likely to misplace baggage on trains and buses or in taxis, but that happens, too).

Carry on those wayward bags:

The best way to avoid lost luggage is to carry it on, but that's gotten ridiculously hard with new airport rules (and checking's now expensive - ask your airline about checked baggage fees). Airlines usually allow you to carry on two bags -- one at 22X9X15 and one that the airline will define as a purse, tote or such. I can pack for a month's travel in my carry on sized expandable backpack, provided I'm careful with liquids and gels.

Check the airline's rules, and see all TSA airport rules! And don't check bags unless you need to for your liquids and gels.

Label your baggage outside:

Before checking a bag (leaving a bag when you check in which then goes in the plane's cargo hold), label it inside and out. Labeling bags is only a little helpful to the folks looking for your lost luggage, but very helpful when you need to claim 'em. Use the outside tag holder if the bag came with one *and* use one of the tags you'll find at airline check in counters; tie that tag's elasticized string around your bag's handle. Keep the stubs you'll get when you check. And when you check, *always* have a carry on bag, too, containing your passport and items you cannot lose. Read about cash stashing, too.

Label your baggage inside:

I duct tape a card with my name and address to the inside lid of my backpack and leave a copy of my itinerary and tickets inside in plain sight in the hopes that someone might actually read it if trying to unite me with my bag. To my travel itinerary, I paper clip a sheet with my cell phone number and my home phone and write "phone number" on it in relevant languages.

Color tag your bag:

Get a small roll of bright tape (like fluorescent lime) and wrap a piece around something on your bag, like a backpack strap or handle strap. Sounds dumb. Works. You can spot your bag in a whole pile of similar-looking bags or in someone else's hand. You can also list it as an identifying mark if reporting lost luggage. Keep the tape while traveling for labeling all kinds of stuff, like your food in a hostel kitchen fridge. Bright survey tape (hardware store), though not sticky, also works as a tag.

A picture is worth a thousand descriptions:

Take a picture of your bag, preferably with color tag, and store it in your phone's camera or in your digital camera. Print it out and keep it with your passport in your carry on or passport holder, too. If you have to report a missing bag, you have an easy way (your phone) to show the lost luggage people (more on them below) what your bag looks like. If you have it in your phone and have a hard copy, you can leave the copy at the baggage counter (more on that below) if you have to leave the airport without your bag.

Tear off old tags:

Before checking your baggage, rip off any old baggage tags another airline may have put on your bags -- big tags looped around a handle with old flight info on 'em. (I also figure that if baggage handlers don't have to tear off my backpack's baggage tags from the last flight, that's a little less time my bag's literally being handled, lessening damage opportunities.) I also change the elasticized tag to that of my current airline; I have no idea if this helps, but it makes me feel better.

Lock it up:

I figure that the harder it is to get into my bag, the less chance it will happen, and I lock my backpack with TSA approved locks. If someone really wants to steal a suitcase at an airport, they may move on to an easier target if mine is locked. I multitask my TSA approved locks while traveling, too.

Be waiting for your bags:

Get to the area of the airport where your baggage will be being unloaded as fast as possible after your flight lands. If you're going to what's called Baggage Claim, you'll arrive long before the bags; look above big oval carousels for your flight number -- that flight's bags will be dumped down a chute to that carousel. Watch for your color tag (above). If bags are being unloaded on the tarmac from a small plane, watch yours until it's in your hand (you can probably walk up and grab it).

How to Deal With Lost Luggage:

Though you can misplace baggage from a taxi, the belly or roof of a bus or from a train, that may be theft, and most merely lost luggage complaints are with airlines.

    What should I do about lost luggage?

    if your bag doesn't show up on the baggage carousel (above), look immediately for the airline's nearby baggage office or window (this would be the lost luggage people) and report it there at once (the office is near -- it's probably not on another level). Don't panic- - your bag may just be delayed and coming in on another flight. Give the window clerk your baggage stubs (above).

      What will happen when I report lost luggage?

      The clerk at the baggage claim window will track your bag on the computer first, using your stubs. If the bag isn't on another flight, the clerk will begin calling around to track it down or send baggage guys who work for the airline to look for it. Describe your stuff and produce a picture of your baggage (above) now. Use this time to get out your itinerary, as it can be wildly frustrating to listen to this search process.

      The clerk will next ask you to fill in a claim form with pertinent personal info (use your itinerary) and bag description. Supply a way to be reached (like a working phone) over the next few days. Give the clerk your bag's picture. Keep a copy of the form.

      You'll then be told that the airline will look for your baggage and return it to you if it is found. Yes, ominous words. It's now safe to assume it may be officially lost luggage, unless the clerk tracks it as having been delivered to the carousel -- in that case, it may be stolen and you will now need the police.

      What the airline will do if your baggage is gone

      If the airline finds your bag, they'll get it to you. If not, the airline will try to replace the lost luggage itself with the closest match possible (this didn't work out very well in my dismal personal experience). You're entitled to contents recompense -- varies by airline, but policy limits amounts; you may not get what you'd like. Do find out if you'll be reimbursed if you buy replacements for items from your lost luggage now (while you're traveling) like clothes and toothpaste.

      Do keep your claim form for checking progress. Good luck!

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