Plane Talk: Tips on Avoiding Baggage Problems
Relatively few bags are damaged or lost. However, your chances of encountering this experience can be reduced even further if you follow the advice set out below.
Avoid putting the following in checked baggage:
- Valuables (cash, jewelry). Don't rely on suitcase locks; they are easily defeated.
- Critical items (medicine, keys, passport, tour vouchers, business papers).
- Irreplaceable items (manuscript, heirlooms).
- Fragile items (camera, eyeglasses, glass containers). If these must be checked, wrap them carefully in padding.
Carry the above items either on your person, or in a small bag that you carry on board.
Other Packing Tips:
- Even if a bag is not lost, it may be delayed for a day or two. It is wise to put items that you will need during the first 24 hours in a carry-on bag (toiletries, one change of underwear).
- Don't overpack checked bags. This puts pressure on the latches, making it easier for them to spring open.
- Your checked bags may need to be opened for a security inspection out of your presence. If you wish to lock your bags, see www.tsa.gov for information on locks that security personnel can open and then re-lock.
- If you use an unapproved lock and your bag is selected for inspection, the security staff will break the lock if necessary.
- Put a tag on the outside of your baggage with your name, home address, and home and work phone numbers. The airlines provide free stick-on tags. Most carriers also have "privacy tags" which conceal this information from passersby.
- Put the same information inside each bag, and add an address and telephone number where you can be reached at your destination city.
Carry-on baggage advice:
- Check with the airline for any limits it has on the size, weight, or number of carry-on bags. (There is no single federal standard.)
- Inquire about your flight; different airplanes can have different limits.
- If you are using more than one airline for a trip, check on all of them.
- A heavy bag which fits in an overhead bin may still cause the bin to exceed its weight limit.
- Don't assume that the flight has unlimited closet space for garment bags; some may have to be checked.
- Don't pack anything in a carry-on bag that could be considered a weapon (e.g., scissors, knife).
Some key tips during check-in include:
- Don't check in at the last minute. Even if you make the flight, your bag may not.
- Make sure that you get a claim check for every bag that you check. Don't throw them away until your bags are returned. Not only will you need them if a claim is necessary, but you may need to show them to security upon leaving the baggage-claim area. Don't leave them in the seat-pocket on the airplane.
- Verify that the agent checking your bags attaches a destination tag to each one. (Remove tags from previous trips to avoid confusion.) Check to see that these tags show the correct three-letter code for your destination airport.
- Know where your bags are checked to. They may be checked only to one of your intermediate stops rather than your final destination if you must clear Customs short of your final destination, or you are taking a connecting flight involving two airlines which don't have an interline agreement (e.g., Southwest Airlines does not transfer bags to other carriers).
If you have a choice, select flights which minimize the potential for baggage disruption. The likelihood of a bag going astray increases as the following numbers get higher:
- nonstop flights
- through flights (one or more stops, but no change of aircraft)
- online connections (change of aircraft but not airlines)
- interline connections (change of aircraft and airlines)
Buy "excess valuation" from the airline if your property is worth more than the airline's liability limit. This limit is usually $3,300 per passenger for domestic trips ($3,000 for trips before December 22, 2008). The limit for most international trips originating in the U.S. is 1,000 "Special Drawing Rights" per passenger. See www.imf.org for the value of the SDR.
Your chances of recovery can be improved depending on where and how you bought your airline ticket. Some credit card companies and travel agencies offer optional baggage insurance; some others provide it automatically.
Key tips while claiming your bags include:
- If your bag arrives open, unlocked or visibly damaged, check immediately to see if any of the contents are missing or damaged.
- Report any problems to your airline before leaving the airport. Insist that the airline fill out a form and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. Get the agent's name and an appropriate telephone number for following up (not Reservations).
- It's not unusual for the airline to take your claim checks when you report the problem; simply make sure this is noted on all copies of the report.
- Before leaving the airport, ask the airline if they will deliver the bag without charge when it is found. Also ask about an advance or reimbursement for any items you must buy while your bag is missing.
- Open your suitcase immediately when you get to where you are staying. Report any damage to contents or pilferage immediately by telephone. Make a note of the date and time of the call, and the name and telephone number of the person you spoke with. Follow up immediately with a certified letter.