Lost your luggage while traveling by plane? Here’s what to do.

The Apple AirTag tracking device that Lily Datta placed in her luggage before leaving Cleveland on June 27 showed the suitcase had arrived in Paris the next day. This puzzled Ms Datta as she and her family had no intention of going to Paris. Their destination was Vienna, with stops in Washington, DC and Barcelona to get there, but not Paris. It was the family’s first foray overseas since the pandemic began, a trip to celebrate son Dev’s high school graduation.

Ms Datta filed a claim for lost luggage at the airport, but when the suitcase was not delivered to their hotel in Vienna the following morning as promised, she began emailing the airline, sharing the location of the bag (according to the AirTag) daily. She received no response. Even more frustrating, she said, was that when she called the customer service number given to her, she “just got a recording – no one ever picked up and there was no had no way to leave a message”.

Growing demand for air travel and staff shortages at airports have made this summer a tough one for lost and delayed checked baggage. Incidents like the recent malfunction of the baggage system at London’s Heathrow airport, which caused backups so large that flights were canceled to give workers a chance to sort out the mess, have only done add to misery.

While the number of mishandled bags had declined over the past decade, in part due to new technologies, the past few years have changed that trajectory. The number of delayed or lost bags rose to 6 in 1,000 bags in February, from 5 in 1,000 in February 2020, according to the latest report from the Ministry of Transport.

The system is now operating beyond capacity, said William McGee, senior aviation researcher at the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonpartisan organization that promotes equal access to economic markets. “This is the worst summer crisis for airline customer service in the 37 years I’ve spent working, writing and advocating for airlines,” he said.

After a few days without hearing from the airline, Ms Datta and her husband, Alan Peyrat, began emailing various United Airlines and Austrian Airlines executives, who had both taken charge of the luggage. They also got in touch via social media and asked their hotel concierge for help. Seven days after arriving in Europe, Ms Datta received an email response from Austrian Airlines. A rep wrote, apologetically, that her bag was one of thousands missing and “the current reality does not allow me to give you concrete information.”

Problems with lost baggage have been exacerbated by a reduction in airline investment in baggage handling during the pandemic, said Danny Cox, vice president of customer experience at Breeze Airways, a new airline launched in the year. last. “Airlines are in survival mode,” he said, “there hasn’t been a glut of funds to improve baggage systems.” Current staffing shortfalls are having a ripple effect, he added. “If you’re looking for a mechanic to fix something, you go to the same people who service other ground operations.”

To improve the chances that your luggage won’t get lost – and you and your bag will be reunited if it does – follow these tips. Much of the trouble is out of your control, so a Zen mindset of patience can also help.

Identify your baggage. The most important thing you can do to help the airline find your lost luggage is to label its exterior with your initials and phone number, and put more complete contact information like a business card inside. inside. Take photos of the luggage and write down the brand name and dimensions. Keep your baggage claim slip and know your ticket and flight number.

To reduce handling errors, tuck in loose straps that can get tangled with machinery or another bag and veer off course. Remove any barcode stickers or checked baggage tags from previous trips.

Baggage that may appear lost may have been accidentally taken by someone with a similar bag, especially if it’s a black wheeled carry-on, the most common bag, said Kevin Larson, head of Alaska Airlines Central Baggage Services. Baggage can also be on another carousel. Mr. Larson advises passengers to put something unique, like a colorful ribbon, on the outside of their bag. A bright luggage tag, stickers or reflective tape can also make a suitcase stand out.

Act immediately. If your bags don’t arrive when you do, let the airline know before you leave the airport. Getting in touch by phone was difficult. The notice recorded in a June 30 phone call to Delta Air Lines called for an 80-minute wait time and offered no option to leave a number to receive a callback rather than remain on hold.

Pack smart. The Department of Transport recommends that passengers avoid packing valuable, fragile, perishable or irreplaceable items in their checked baggage, and allows airlines to specify the types of items they will not cover in the event of loss, such as cash, jewelry, computers, art, antiques and collectibles. Keep them with you or leave them at home. Put important medications in your hand luggage.

Keep a virtual eye on it. Placing a small tracking device like a tile or Apple AirTag inside your luggage allows you to monitor the location of the bag via a phone app. “It’s about the same cost as checking a bag,” said Mr Cox of Breeze Airways. Trackers are especially useful for finding out if someone mistakenly removed your bag from the carousel instead of theirs.

Some airlines, including United, American, and Delta Air Lines, offer baggage tracking capabilities for passengers through the carrier’s website or mobile app.

Know the compensation rules. The Department of Transport lists the rules that airlines must follow in the event of delayed or lost baggage. The maximum an airline can owe a passenger is $3,800 per bag. Flights with an international leg are governed by different rules and the maximum a passenger will receive is approximately $1,800.

Each airline has its own policies under government rules, so passengers should check their carrier’s website for details. United Airlines passengers, for example, must have lost property receipts if they claim the contents of their baggage is worth more than $1,500. United will consider baggage “lost” after five days, but other airlines may specify a longer period before declaring baggage “lost.”

Restock when a bag is missing. When luggage goes missing, airlines reimburse passengers for toiletries, clothing and other ancillary items they buy to help them while the company tries to locate their bag. Airline websites can be vague about what will be covered, and the United States government does not allow airlines to impose a daily spending limit, so travelers may not know what is allowed. Travelers must complete a claim form available at the customer service desk or on the airline’s website and submit receipts for the items they purchase. They should also have an explanation for anything unusual as to why the purchase was necessary.

Use protections. Premium credit cards may offer coverage for lost baggage, but may require passengers to complete certain steps to obtain it. According to JP Morgan spokesman Pablo Rodriguez, more than 25 types of Chase credit cards offer up to $3,000 in lost baggage compensation to make up the difference between the airline’s reimbursement and the value of the bags. luggage and items in their luggage. Hunt. Customers must provide copies of receipts for each item valued at $25 or more that they request to be replaced, and the payment they receive may be reduced based on the age of the items.

Separately purchased travel insurance may include compensation for lost or delayed baggage, but as always with travel insurance, read the fine print.

Don’t check the bag. The most obvious advice, but still the best way to make sure your luggage doesn’t get lost by the airlines, is to travel with hand luggage only. Pack ruthlessly – what do you really need? What can you buy at destination? Can you wash your socks in the sink? If you’re checking in your luggage, try to book a nonstop flight. A transfer is one more chance that something will go wrong.

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