Avoiding Lost Luggage Woes
Air travel is way up again, with a record number of travelers expected by the end of the year, despite insane security lines and fuel prices.
However, so are the incidents of the airlines losing checked luggage; especially since last August, when a ban on carry-on liquids resulted in a 30 percent increase in checked bags.
In fact, nearly four million bags last year were either lost or damaged, making it the number three complaint by passengers, after flight delays and cancellations.
And while a few airlines are worse than others, this is a situation that is costing all of the airlines dearly -- not just in claims, but also in installing new bag technology into airports.
While there have been discussions of various options for the future, what can you do right now to avoid the nightmare of lost luggage? Here are a few tips that may help.
Ship Your Bags Ahead
We are strong advocates that if at all possible, ship your bags ahead of you via any number of services, including Fed Ex and Luggage Concierge. Of course, if you decide to go this route, make sure you don't pack any items you will need over the next 24 hours, such as medicine -- and never pack valuables such as jewelry or electronics.
Put Your Contact Information Inside the Bag
Of course, your luggage probably already has tags on the outside with your name, address and phone number, however, these can sometimes get torn off during the travel process. Make sure to put another label with your name and contact information (and possibly, your itinerary) INSIDE the bag as well.
Take a Picture
You might also consider snapping a quick photo of your luggage with your cell phone or digital camera so that if it does get lost, it will be easier for the airline officials to identify.
Take a Nonstop Flight, Whenever Possible
If you've ever had to run to catch a connecting flight, you can imagine how easy it is for the baggage handlers to miss getting your luggage on the right flight. If at all possible, take a nonstop flight, but if not, make sure to allow plenty of time for your bags to make your connection.
Check Your Bags Before You Leave The Airport
Don't wait until you get home (or to your hotel) to see if something is missing from your luggage. Rather, check inside your bag while you're still AT the airport so that if there is a problem, you can go straight to the baggage claim office and file a complaint.
If Your Bag Goes Missing
If all of your efforts fail and your bags still wind up MIA, don't panic. According to industry experts, most passengers get their bags back within 24 hours and only a small percentage lose their bags forever.
If you are one of those unlucky few, you should know what to expect. For example, you may be surprised to learn that the airline is NOT going to buy you a new vacation wardrobe; chances are, you'll only be offered a basic bath amenity kit for those first 24 hours (and possibly enough to buy a clean tee shirt). Nevertheless, make sure to keep all of your receipts in hopes that you will get reimbursed -- and then know that what you receive will depend on your class of service and frequent flyer status.
Do remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so make sure to get the phone number of the baggage claim office (not the 800 number, but the actual on-site number), as well as the name of the agent you spoke to, and call back early and often.
If your bags are gone for good, don't expect a whole lot. In fact, the maximum amount you can get is the federal cap of $2,800 per passenger, domestically (not per bag) -- with receipts required for any item valued over $250. Internationally, you'll get even less, from about $9.07 per pound of luggage -- up to $1500 per passenger (regardless of how many bags), depending on whether or not the country has ratified the "Montreal Convention." You also may be protected under your homeowners insurance or the credit card you booked your flight on, so check with them as well.
While there can never be any guarantees, with a little planning, you may have a much better chance of avoiding the lost luggage woes -- and of enjoying your trip!
Travel Insurance is a Very Good Idea
By footing the bills for emergency expenses, travel insurance protects disaster-wary travelers, for a price. Vacationers frequently visit unfamiliar environments, trek to less-developed countries and engage in risky activities, making insurance even more appealing. The decision to purchase travel insurance depends on the risks you’ll be taking and on the policies which may already protect you.
Travel insurance covers four basic areas: medical/health problems, property loss, trip cancellation/interruption, and emergency evacuation. Though regular insurance policies may well extend to travel-related accidents, you may consider purchasing separate travel insurance if the potential cost of trip cancellation or emergency medical evacuation is greater than you can absorb. Prices for travel insurance purchased separately generally run about US$50 per week for full coverage, while trip cancellation/interruption may be purchased separately at a rate of US$3-5 per day, depending on the length of stay.
Medical insurance (especially university policies) often covers costs incurred abroad; check with your provider. Citizens of EU/EEA countries are entitled to certain medical services while within the union (you’ll need a European Health Insurance Card). Canadian provincial health insurance plans increasingly do not cover foreign travel; check with the provincial Ministry of Health or Health Plan Headquarters for details. US Medicare does not cover foreign travel. Homeowners’ insurance (or your family’s coverage) often covers theft during travel and loss of travel documents (passport, plane ticket, rail pass, etc.) up to $500.00.
ISIC and ITIC provide basic insurance benefits to US cardholders, including $100 per day of in-hospital sickness for up to 100 days and $10,000 of accident-related medical reimbursement (see www.myisic.com for details). Cardholders have access to a toll-free 24hr. helpline for medical, legal, and financial emergencies overseas. American Express (800-528-4800) grants most cardholders automatic collision and theft car rental insurance and ground travel accident coverage of $100,000 on flight purchases made with the card.
A Few Insurance providers:
STA (www.statravel.com) offers a range of plans that can supplement your basic coverage. Other private insurance providers in the US and Canada include: Access America (800-284-8300; www.accessamerica.com); Berkely Group (800-797-4514; www.berkely.com); Globalcare Travel Insurance (800-821-2488; www.globalcare-cocco.com); Travel Assistance International (800-821-2828; www.travelassistance.com); and Travel Guard (800-826-4919; www.travelguard.com) AFTA (02 9264 3299; www.afta.com.au) operates in Australia and Columbus Direct (020 7375 0011; www.columbusdirect.co.uk) in the UK.
Important Documents to Take With You
Don’t forget your passport, traveler’s checks, ATM and/or credit cards, adequate ID, and photocopies of all of the aforementioned.
Photocopy the page of your passport with your photo, as well as your visas, traveler’s check serial numbers, and any other important documents. Carry one set of copies in a safe place, apart from the originals, and leave another set at home. Consulates also recommend that you carry an expired passport or an official copy of your birth certificate in a part of your baggage separate from other documents.
If you lose your passport, immediately notify the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate of your home government. To expedite its replacement, you will need to know all information previously recorded and show ID and proof of citizenship. In some cases, a replacement may take weeks to process, and it may be valid only for a limited time. Any visas stamped in your old passport will be irretrievably lost. In an emergency, ask for immediate temporary traveling papers that will permit you to re-enter your home country.