August 25, 2011 | By Collette Peck
Scenario #1: The routing label gets damaged
Cause: When you check your bag, it gets tagged with an oddly printed, illegible routing label — or a legible label gets snagged and torn off your bag shortly after being tagged. Adding insult to injury, it’s a new suitcase, and you’ve forgotten to fill in the cool, leather-bound identification card.
Scenario #2: You forget to pick up your luggage upon landing
Cause: Maybe you’re distracted by an urgent text upon landing at home, and head straight for a taxi. Maybe you’re weighed down with heavy carry-on bags and forget you checked one more. Or perhaps you’re a tad buzzed from in-flight cocktails. Whatever the reason, you walk straight past the carousel and leave the airport without collecting your generic black roller bag (with no I.D. tag, natch), and don’t realize it until you’ve arrived at home.
Scenario #3: The attendant types in the wrong destination code
Cause: When you hand over your luggage, the bag-check attendant accidentally inputs the wrong destination code. So off you go to SLC — while your bag heads to SCL. ( Salt Lake City, Utah – your bag – Santiago, Chile.)
Scenario #4: Your bag is loaded onto the wrong plane
Cause: You check your bag and, moments after it rides out of view on the conveyor belt, human error steps in: An employee places it on the wrong baggage cart, and, as a result, it gets loaded onto the wrong plane.
More than 2 million bags were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered in 2010, according to “mishandled baggage” reports made by the largest U.S. airlines to the Department of Transportation. (That’s about 3.57 reports per 1,000 passengers.) Here’s how you can prevent becoming part of this statistic:Double-check: Ask the flight attendant handling your bag if you can see the routing information placed on the handle to verify its accuracy before she sends your suitcase down the conveyor belt. This is especially important if you have a connecting flight, because bags are not always routed directly to the final destination — on occasion, it may be your responsibility to pick up your bag from the first leg of your journey and re-check it, and the best way to confirm this is to see what’s written on the label.
Make yourself known: The key is to ID your bag in multiple places — outside as well as inside — by placing ID cards in various pockets and pouches. And then add another, using the paper tags provided by the airline carrier. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number (preferably a mobile number).
Share your plans: Pack a copy of your itinerary (in a place that’s not too hard to find) so that airline workers will know where to route your bag in the case they find it and cannot get in touch with you.
Document the evidence: Photograph or video the contents of your bag as you pack. “I just lay everything out on the bed and take a few photos with my phone,” said Kate Hanni, of FlyersRights.org. Not only will that help to identify your bag if it goes missing, it will also help with claims forms if your suitcase is never found.
Remove extras: Before checking your bag, take off any removable straps; this will decrease the likelihood of it getting snagged along the way.
Arrive early: If you check a bag within 30 minutes of your departure time, it may not actually make it onto the plane.
Stick to tradition: Finally, don’t check your bag with the curbside baggage checker; go inside to the main counter to decrease the chances of a mix-up.
Embellish your bag: Whether you buy a colorful handle wrap or just add a few stripes of bright duct tape, making yours different from the others could draw the attention of a not-so-motivated airline employee. Another option is to purchase a bag that’s not black or navy (like the overwhelming majority), making it easier to spot in a roomful of luggage.
What are your rights if your bag is lost for good?
In the event that your bag is lost for good, U.S. airlines can be held liable for up to $3,300 for domestic flights. The airlines will not, however, simply pay you to replace your missing items. Instead, they’ll decide the compensation amount based on original purchase prices, minus depreciation (this is according to the “contract of carriage,” which you automatically agree to when you buy a plane ticket). Here is a ray of sunshine: As of August 2011, a new law requires airlines to reimburse passengers for checked baggage fees (typically $25 and up) when said baggage is lost.