Lost luggage during a flight? Here’s what to do.


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

Ms Datta filed a lost luggage report at the airport, but when the suitcase was not delivered to the hotel in Vienna the next morning as promised, she began emailing the airline, giving the location of the bag daily (according to AirTag). She didn’t get an answer. Even more frustrating, she says, was that when she called the support number she was given, she “just got a record – no one ever answered the phone and there was no way to leave a message.”

Rising demand for air travel and a shortage of staff at airports have made this a torturous summer when it comes to lost and delayed checked baggage. Incidents such as the recent baggage system malfunction at London Heathrow Airport, which caused such large backups that flights were canceled to give workers a chance to sort out the mess, have only exacerbated the suffering.

While the number of mishandled bags has decreased over the past decade, due in part to new technology, the past few years have changed that trajectory. According to the latest report from the Department of Transportation, the number of delayed or lost bags rose to 6 out of 1,000 in February this year, up from 5 out of 1,000 in February 2020.

The system is currently operating beyond its capacity, said William McGee, senior aviation fellow at the American Economic Freedom Project, a non-partisan organization that promotes equal access to economic markets. “This is the worst summer crisis in airline customer service in the 37 years I have worked, written about and advocated for airlines,” he said.

A few days later, with no word from the airline, Ms. Datta and her husband, Alan Peyra, began sending emails to various United Airlines and Austrian Airlines executives who handled the luggage. They also connected via social media and enlisted the help of their hotel concierge. Seven days after arriving in Europe, Ms. Datta received an email response from Austrian Airlines. The rep wrote apologetically that her bag was one of many thousands missing and “reality right now doesn’t allow me to give you any specific information.”

Lost baggage problems have been exacerbated by reduced airline investment in baggage handling during the pandemic, said Danny Cox, vice president of guest experience at Breeze Airways, a new airline that opened last year. “The airlines were in survival mode,” he said, “there was no surplus of funds to improve baggage systems.” He added that the current staff shortage is having a ripple effect. “If you’re looking for a mechanic to fix something, you go to the same people who service other ground operations.”

To increase the chances that your luggage won’t get lost—and that you and your bag will be reunited if it does—follow these tips. Much of the trouble is out of your control, so patient zen thinking can help as well.

Define your baggage. The most important thing you can do to help the airline reunite you with your lost luggage is to mark the outside with your initials and phone number, and include more complete contact information, such as a business card, on the inside. Take a photo of the luggage and pay attention to the brand and size. Keep your baggage receipt and know your ticket and flight number.

To prevent mishandling, tuck loose straps that could get tangled with gears or another bag and veer off course. Remove any barcode stickers or checked baggage tags from previous trips.

Luggage that might appear lost could have been accidentally picked up by someone with a similar bag, especially if it’s a black carry-on on wheels, the most common bag, said Kevin Larson, manager of Alaska Airlines’ central baggage service. Luggage can also just be on another carousel. Mr. Larson advises passengers to attach something unique, like colorful ribbon, to the outside of the bag. A bright luggage tag, stickers, or reflective tape can also make a suitcase stand out.

Act immediately. If your baggage does not arrive on time, notify the airline before you leave the airport. Contact by phone was problematic. A recorded phone call notice on June 30 at Delta Air Lines predicted a wait time of 80 minutes and offered no option to leave a number to receive a call back rather than stay on the line.

Pack smart. The Department of Transportation advises passengers to avoid packing valuable, fragile, perishable or irreplaceable items in checked bags and allows airlines to specify the types of items they will not cover if they are lost, such as cash, jewelry, computers, art, antiques and collectibles. Keep them with you or leave them at home. Put important medicines in your hand luggage.

Follow him virtually. Placing a small tracking device such as a tile or Apple AirTag inside your luggage allows you to track the location of the bag via a phone app. “It’s about the same as checking one bag,” Breeze Airways’ Mr. Cox said. Trackers are especially useful for detecting when someone has mistakenly removed your bag from the carousel instead of theirs.

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

Know the rules for compensation. The Department of Transportation lists the rules that airlines must follow in case of baggage delay or loss. The maximum amount an airline can owe a passenger is $3,800 per bag. Flights with an international flight are subject to different rules, and the maximum passenger will receive about $1,800.

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

Restock while the bag is out. When luggage goes missing, airlines refund passengers for toiletries, clothes and other items they buy to get them through while the company tries to find their bag. Airlines websites can be vague about what will be covered, and the United States government does not allow airlines to set a daily spending limit, so travelers may not know what is allowed. Travelers must complete the claim form available at the customer service desk or on the airline’s website and provide purchase receipts. They should also have an explanation for anything out of the ordinary as to why the purchase was necessary.

Use protection. Premium credit cards may offer lost luggage coverage but may force passengers to go through some hurdles to get it. More than 25 types of Chase credit cards offer compensation of up to $3,000 for lost luggage to make up the difference between the refund from the airline and the value of the luggage and items in their luggage, according to Pablo Rodriguez, a spokesman for JP Morgan. Chase. Customers must provide copies of receipts for each $25 or more item they request to be replaced, and their payout may be reduced based on the age of the items.

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

Don’t check your bag. The most obvious tip, but still the best way to make sure your bags aren’t lost by airlines, is to travel with hand luggage only. Pack ruthlessly – what do you really need? What can be bought at the destination? Can you wash socks in the sink? If you are checking in your luggage, try booking a direct flight. The transfer is another chance that something will go wrong.

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