After 15 years on the road as a business traveler, I am happy to report that my luggage was only “temporarily” lost once. A few years ago, I was headed to Greece with a connection in Paris. I had built in some vacation before a job I was going to work on.
I vaguely remember that the check-in process was a little bit discombobulated where I began my journey. There were agents milling behind the counter talking to each other and lots of passenger documents all over the place. When I arrived in Athens after a very long journey, I was the only lost little soul—waiting and waiting and waiting—as the luggage carousel went round and round.
This was new to me. I stood my ground and just knew for sure my big red suitcase (lovingly referred to by my colleagues as “Big Mama”) would eventually come out. It always had before. Why would this time be any different? Well, after about half an hour, I gave up. In a bit of a panic, I proceeded to go to the baggage desk at the airport (thankfully labeled in English as well as Greek) to find out what was going on.
After waiting for several minutes for someone to appear behind the desk, I handed my baggage claim tickets to the agent at the desk—and after about 20 minutes of searching the computers—they located Big Mama. She was in Germany!
I started to panic. I was meeting with a friend in Athens for the day and then proceeding to leave town the following day to visit another part of Greece. I wasn’t going to be here in Athens! Would they get my bag to me on time before I left? What am I going to do without clothes? You can imagine how such an incident can really throw a wrench in your plans.
The agent assured me that I would be getting my bag early the next morning before I left Athens and gave me a little tote with some basic items in it (toothbrush, paste, comb, t-shirt, etc) to get me through the night. Luckily, being the over-packer that I am, I had stuffed some clothes into my computer bag, as I had run out of luggage space! As promised, my bag did end up arriving early the next morning in time for me to take on my Greek adventure. Through this experience, I have learned a few lessons worth passing on below:
1. Make sure you get a luggage tag from the check-in counter:
Please, please, please make sure you pay attention and never leave without a luggage tag. The agent must give you one for every piece of checked luggage. Sometimes, they give you the boarding pass first, and then they give you the luggage tags separately. Sometimes they give you back all documents together. Without that luggage tag, it will be more difficult for you to find out where your bags are when problems arise. Make it a habit to check all of the documentation you have been handed before you leave the check-in area.
2. Confirm with the agent the destination of your bags:
If I had followed this rule when I began my trip, I don’t think I would have had the issue that I did. It turns out my baggage claim ticket showed that my bags were going to Germany. I believe the confused agent put the wrong luggage tag on my suitcase, as there were so many documents on the counter. When the agents give you back the luggage tag, take a moment and confirm with them.
“Is this bag going to XYZ (your final destination)?” Luggage tags contain abbreviated airport codes on them. Sometimes these codes make sense to you (JFK=JFK airport), sometimes they don’t (ORD=Chicago O’Hare). Take a minute to show them the tag and confirm the destination code. Your things may still get lost in the shuffle between point A and point B for other reasons, but you can at least rule out the error of incorrect airport tags.
3. Always pack an extra change of clothes in your carry-on:
This is important to do especially if you are going on a business trip. How bad would it be to arrive for a meeting, wearing your jeans and wrinkled t-shirt because your bag is lost? I always ensure that I have a complete change of professional wardrobe, including undergarments, when I fly. If you are going on vacation, follow the same rule. Hey, you can always wash one outfit in the sink, while wearing the other!
4. Be ready to file a claim form if luggage is lost:
Each airline has its own process for dealing with truly lost luggage. There are forms that you will have to fill out, which now, thanks to technology, can be found on the airline’s websites. Many, if not all, airlines will have deadlines for filing a claim; so make sure to research these details if you find yourself in this position. If you need to buy new clothes or other personal items due to the lost luggage, keep all receipts. Chances are that some or all of these expenses will be covered by the airline. Other documents you will likely need are the luggage tags you got at check-in and copies of your airline reservation/ticket.
5. Don’t travel with really fancy luggage:
Another reason your bags may get lost is that they have been stolen. I have a Louis Vuitton carry-on roller bag that I sometimes take with me on trips, but I will never purchase this type of luggage to be checked-in. One of my friends lost a garment bag that had a “replica” designer logo. Perhaps this encouraged her bag to take a walk.
6. Try to fly direct:
A direct flight is obviously more expensive, but also significantly lessens the risk of lost luggage. Just remember connections can equal baggage confusion!
7. Stop-over one day before taking a cruise:
If you are going on a cruise where you will leave the port city within 24 hours, consider arriving a day early, especially if your flight is not direct. This will help you in case your luggage is lost, and it can also save you if your connections are late. You don’t want to miss your boat or have no clothing with you.
If there is a mishap with your luggage, it is usually solved within 24 hours. That has been the experience of many forlorn travelers that I have talked to. I hope this never happens to you, but hopefully these tips can provide some guidance on what to do when and if you are faced with the circumstance of lost baggage.
As always, I bid you happy travels!
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