by Nancy Bestor
My plane was pulling out of the gate in San Francisco last month, on its way to Puerto Vallarta, when I looked out the window and saw some poor traveler’s non-descript black suitcase go flying off a speeding motorized trolley. The airport employee driving the trolley never looked back. I couldn’t help but think that suitcase, sitting all alone on the tarmac, was going to be run over by an airplane, and its contents smashed and/or shredded to smithereens. This got me thinking. Just how long would this bag sit outside on the tarmac at SFO? What were the chances that this suitcase and its owner would be reunited at their destination? Just how often are suitcases lost (whether briefly or permanently) by an airline or airport, and what can I do to prevent mine from being lost in the future?
I turned to the Department of Transportation for a report on “mishandled baggage,” defined as lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered. In July of 2012, less than half of one percent of domestic passengers reported their luggage as mishandled, which was slightly lower than July of 2011. Here are some suggestions to prevent your luggage from becoming one of these casualties.
Carry your luggage on to the plane whenever possible. I know it’s a hassle. You can’t bring liquids larger than 3 ounces. You can’t fit an unlimited supply of shoes into a carry-on. You might have to fight with your neighbor to squeeze your bag into the overhead bin. But the surefire way of keeping your luggage from getting lost is to maintain responsibility for it yourself. The old saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself” could not be more apt.
If you have to check your bag, watch the employee at the airline check-in counter tag your bag with its final destination. Make sure the final destination on your suitcase tag is, in fact, your final destination! It only takes one tracking tag typo to send your bag to the wrong location. While the airport codes may be similar, close alphabetically is not necessarily close in miles.
Put a luggage tag on your bag. If your suitcase is lost, or its tracking tag disappears, and your bag doesn’t have a tag with your contact information, the airline won’t know who the bag belongs to, or where it should be going. There are all sorts of tags available, so choose the one that most suits your style. At a minimum, include your name and cell phone or email address on the tag.
Finally, don’t put anything of value in your suitcase. This might be the most important suggestion of all. No expensive jewelry. No electronics, cash, credit cards, nor anything that is irreplaceable. If your bag is lost, and you have to wear the clothes on your back for a few days, or buy replacements, so be it. But at least you won’t have lost a family heirloom, or thousands of dollars worth of goods and gear.