According to a 2017 Reward Expert report about mishandled baggage, only a small percentage of air passengers experience damaged or lost luggage. Among 13 airlines studied, from October 2013 through September 2016, only 3.1 out of every 1,000 passengers filed mishandled luggage complaints. The company’s CEO and co-founder Roman Shteyn says the findings are encouraging. “In 2016, we witnessed a steep drop to 2.4 out of every 1,000 passengers filing luggage,” he says.
Whether your bag contains a luxury item or your favorite pair of jeans, when you are among those unlucky few, dealing with mishandled luggage is a travel stressor no one needs.
So what steps can we take to ensure we arrive with bags safely in check?
Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage says the biggest mistake people make is not labeling luggage properly. Use distinctive heavy-duty tags, never rely on airline paper tags that can easily be damaged.
“In addition to tagging your bag on the outside, also label it on the inside,” says Cantrell. She recommends dropping a business card in an inside pocket and placing stickers on small electronics. Photos of the bag’s exterior and interior plus a list of contents can come in handy.
Shteyn advises avoiding problematic bags with non-functional zippers or protruding compartments that encourage damage. “Over-packed bags can break open,” he says. “Protect fragile items in specially designed containers, and remove straps and hooks to prevent catching and tearing.”
When you can’t avoid checking valuables such as an oversized item, have insurance coverage; otherwise, live by this mantra: I do not check valuables.
Before your bag hits the conveyer, make sure the destination stub matches your itinerary. Keep boarding pass and baggage receipt in case a claim is needed.
Minimize stress by packing a change of clothes in your carry-on, especially when there’s an important activity soon after landing. Always double-check carry-ons before de-boarding. “We receive countless coats, scarves, cameras and portable gaming systems that were left in a seat back-pocket or overhead bin,” says Cantrell. “These items are often unlabeled and almost impossible to return to the rightful owner.”
While no airline is immune to baggage mishandling, stats tell us who does it well and who often fails. According to RewardExpert’s report, Virgin, Jet Blue and Delta get high marks for responsible luggage handling and delivery. Worst offenders include Envoy, where a passenger is nine times more likely to have their baggage lost than a Virgin passenger.
Shteyn was surprised by findings that show budget airlines among the most responsible. “Many people feel they ‘get what they pay for’ when choosing a budget carrier,” he says. “But when it comes to getting bags to their final destination, airlines like JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier all performed quite well.”
Seasons matter when it comes to baggage incidents. January sees the highest rate of lost or damage bags, with September revealing the lowest. For Shteyn the information is yet another reason to shift from expensive peak summer season to fall travel.
Regardless of the month, arrive early to allow time for ensuring your bag is properly checked and routed. “If you miss the check-in deadline,” says Shteyn, “your bag may not go with you, and you risk the possibility that the airline won’t cover costs of delayed or lost items.”
If your bag is a no-show, file a report immediately with the airline’s arrivals office, usually located near baggage carousels. Ask specifics about procedure: Do you know where the bag is now? Do you have record of the bag scanned and placed on the plane? When will it arrive? How will it be delivered to me? What is the direct number for follow up? What is your purchase replacements policy?
Shteyn says passengers are typically entitled to a rebate of baggage fees when the bag isn’t received within 12 hours of filing. “The important thing to note here is the clock starts from when you first file your claim, not from when your bags were supposed to arrive,” he adds.
With damaged bags, filing a claim and persistent follow up is also key to settlement. Remember to remain calm, firm and polite. “As they say, you catch more flies with honey!” reminds Shteyn.
Airlines view luggage reimbursement as a negotiation: see Understand Your Flight Rights for more information. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s contract of carriage so you are clear about obligations and liabilities as policies vary from carrier to carrier. Check coverage polices with travel insurance and the credit card used for flight booking.
Unclaimed Baggage in northern Alabama showcases 40,000 square feet of lost luggage. Brand ambassador Cantrell says airlines perform an extensive 90-day search to rejoin bags with owners before unclaimed items arrive at the store for a second life.
Since airlines settle claims first, passengers no longer have rights to items; however, Cantrell cites one documented reunion when a woman found ski boots she had lost. “She was reimbursed by the airlines at the time and then was able to use the ski boots another 10 years!” she says.
Maybe you won’t find your lost goods, but with over 7,000 new items stocking shelves daily, you may find similar items and score a deal. “There is hardly anything that surprises me anymore,” says Cantrell. “People pack everything, from dirty clothes and trash to extremely expensive items that I would never let out of my sight.” She says the most expensive item the company has sold was a Presidential Platinum Rolex valued at $65,000; sold for $23,000.
Let’s repeat the mantra together: I do not check valuables.
Main photo courtesy of Dr. Colleen Morgan/ Flickr CC BY 2.0
Lead photo courtesy of Hop Luggage/Flickr CC BY 2.0
Jess Simpson is a full-time digital nomad, grateful and giddy for bylines with Fodor’s, Paste magazine, Mental Floss, Bustle, UAB magazine, and more. Check out more Travel Secrets and connect via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.