6 Ways to Avoid and Deal with Lost Luggage

Air, Extras, Getting There — By on January 27, 2011 at 6:00 am

Cabo San Lucas, Turks and Caicos, and London were the three different destinations I was en route to when the airlines lost my luggage.

During my senior year of high school, I went to Cabo San Lucas for my first big trip without the parents. It was also my first time leaving the country (besides Canada). My luggage went to Atlanta for a few days though. I went to Turks and Caicos with my first serious boyfriend; our luggage arrived three days later. With London, I was going to study abroad there for four months and had checked in two huge suitcases. Apparently the airline thought I over-packed and only gave me one of the suitcases when I landed. They were trying to teach me a lesson, I guess. So you could probably say that although I am a seasoned luggage-loser, it is never me who loses it.

Airports seem to like to challenge me a bit, so in response I’ve come up with six ways for avoiding lost luggage, or dealing with it sanely, if necessary:

1. Buy brightly-colored luggage

I am officially afraid of the luggage carousel. I tremble with fear while I try to spot my luggage. Having luggage that stands out helps me cope. This way, you can easily spot your luggage when it comes out on the carousel. Also if you have to describe your luggage to the airport staff when it’s lost, it could be located easily. After the second time the airport lost my luggage, I decided to invest in some bright green matching suitcases. If you can’t afford to purchase new luggage, customize the luggage you have with bright or funky tags or other accessories.

2. Use a carry-on instead

Yes, it’s really annoying to lug a suitcase around the airport. You will probably knock into walls and other objects, and then people will give you dirty looks, but it is better than having no luggage at all! You are usually allowed to carry-on a personal bag and one piece of luggage of the right size (check TSA’s requirements here). Put everything you need for your trip in those two bags and carry them on the plane. You can easily find rolling suitcases that are of the allowable size. This will also save you money, because now you have to pay some airlines to check your bags! I always carry-on now, even when I am going on big trips during which I will be traveling around for a few weeks. I needed to learn how to downsize anyway. This way, I save money and avoid over-packing, and my luggage safely arrives at the same destination as I do!

3. Pack your carry-on with essentials

If you insist on checking your bags, then at least put the important stuff in your carry-on. Any medications that need to be taken daily should go on the plane with you, along with anything you cannot go a day without. Also, pack at least one clean pair of underwear and maybe a clean shirt (include a bathing suit if you are going somewhere warm!). Any other essentials, like toothbrushes and sunscreen, etc., should board the plane with you. This way you can get through at least one day, and you won’t have to buy those items once you get there. I learned this lesson the hard way.

4. Get phone numbers and K.I.T.

When the small airport in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos lost my luggage, I became very close with the gentleman in charge of lost luggage. However, he probably didn’t think of me that fondly because I called him about three times a day until I got my suitcases, which was three days after I arrived. Unfortunately, the second your luggage disappears, seemingly so does the airline’s interest. If you don’t follow up, you will never hear from them. It becomes your responsibility to, literally, call morning, noon, and night to ask about the status of your luggage. It is annoying but it is the only way you will get your stuff back. Try to get the phone number of the specific person that will be in charge of your case, and make sure you speak to that representative every time you call. The more they hear from you, the more likely they are to stay on top of your case. Persistence is key! Like they say at the end of summer camp, K.I.T. (keep in touch)!

5. Buy multi-purpose clothing

You may have to buy some clothing while you wait for your luggage to arrive. If you don’t want to buy a lot, then try to find pieces of clothing that can be used in multiple ways. For example, when my luggage was lost on the way to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, my friend and I bought long sarongs on the beach for about $5. We used them as cover-ups, skirts, and shirts (our luggage was gone for half of our trip, so we needed a lot of outfits). You might want to buy a dress instead of separate tops and bottoms, or a long skirt that can also be worn as a dress, or pants that can be rolled up to capris or shorts. This does require a little fashion sense, but when you are desperate, you can find a way to pull it off!

6. Keep receipts of your purchases

If you have to buy clothing and other essentials because an airline lost your luggage, you shouldn’t have to be stuck with the bill. You can get reimbursed by the airline if you keep all of your receipts and write them a letter when you get back. Send them photocopies of all of the evidence (keep the originals) and describe in your letter what happened and why you could not function without the items you purchased (obviously, they probably won’t reimburse you for scuba lessons). When Delta (which could stand for Don’t Expect Luggage To Arrive, as our cab driver from the airport informed us, but by then it was too late) lost my luggage in Turks and Caicos, I spent over $100 on replacement items and phone calls to the airline from the hotel because our cellphones didn’t work there. There was no way that I was going to take full responsibility for Delta’s mistake so, as soon as I got back, I sent them a big package with a long letter and copies of all my receipts. I got a check back from Delta within a few weeks. Be strong. Don’t let the airline walk away from its mistake.

It is possible to make the best of your trip while waiting for your belongings. Just take a deep breath and follow these steps. You will be enjoying yourself in no time. Since I’ve learned these tricks from my experiences, I hope I don’t ever have to use them anymore!

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