Am I jinxing my great travel karma in even thinking about luggage being lost? After all, in my 30 years of business travel, countless times with a checked bag, no airline has ever lost my bag. Knock on wood. Cross my fingers. Throw salt over my left shoulder.
While I can’t personally speak to having my luggage lost and never returned, I can speak to ways that I have had this great success with my bags always being returned to me. So before you head off on your next adventure, you may want to run through my checklist of what has worked for me. No litany of lucky charms needed.
Before Leaving Home
— Have a sturdy luggage tag on the outside of your bag. Sure, the airlines offer their paper bag tags at the check-in counter, but just how sturdy do you think those paper tags with the flimsy elastic string are?
This first tip may seem like a ‘duh!’ but I’m shocked how many bags I see coming off of the baggage carousel with no tag.
— Have your name on the inside of the luggage. This tip is probably THE most important! When I speak with airline folks who work in the baggage claim offices, the number one reason why bags do not get returned to their owner is because no identification can be found. Not ON the bag, not IN the bag. Nowhere.
They will search in a bag for anything with the passenger’s name on it. Prescription pill bottles, itineraries … they look but it cannot be found.
What I do is:
Always have a few business cards in my bag (one business card and it might be someone I met at an event; multiple business cards and I figure they will know it’s me)
Have a copy of my itinerary or my hotel name placed on top of my luggage and easily found when the bag is opened. If heading off on a multi-stop trip or a cruise, I will list each destination and the date.
If you’re concerned about having this information in or on your bag, then use your business address and your airline frequent flyer number included instead.
— Place a colorful identifier on your bag. This helps you easily identify your bag, but more importantly helps someone who may think your bag is theirs to realize it’s not. So many bags look alike that it’s easy for someone to walk away with an incorrect bad. I witness this all the time as I see people pick up a bag from the carousel, ask their family member who is standing far behind them “Is this ours?” My bright green luggage handle grip (with my contact info on the reverse side) is perfect for this.
I overheard a person ask an airline agent “How do I return this bag to the carousel in the international terminal?” as he held up a generic black bag with no name tag. He was in the domestic terminal of a large airport after having gone through Customs and Immigration in the international terminal. So now he had the wrong bag, in the wrong terminal and probably talking to an agent for a different airline. Whew! I hope the owner of that bag eventually had it routed correctly! But see how easy it is for a bag to go astray?
— Take a photo of your bag with your mobile phone. Yes, of course you know what it looks like, but try explaining the size, shape, color of your bag to a baggage claim office when either you are totally stressed out because your bag is missing, or the agent’s primary language is not English, or both.
I know firsthand the challenge of trying to explain my missing Hartmann tweed roller-bag to an agent in Norway. Once I showed her my photo, she nodded her head and filled out the claim form, without me trying to Google how to say ‘brown tweed’ in Norwegian.
At The Airport
— When the bag tag is placed on my bag, I always check that the airport code of the destination is correct. An agent once put a bag tag with the code of MSP on my bag instead of MCO. My bag was about to take a trip to Minneapolis/St.Paul when I was heading to Orlando. Fortunately I noticed it before the bag rolled away.
It happens. You see an agent working two or more check-in counters so the wrong tag can get on your bag. Or a similar airport code is used by mistake, as I learned when my bag got mis-tagged by a gate agent in a small airport in Mexico (and I didn’t catch the mistake). My bag went to LAX (Los Angeles) while I went to LAS (Las Vegas). It took a week for my bag to find its way home to me, after its nice vacation in LA.
If you’re not sure of your airport destination code (or the interim airport codes), see Wikipedia’s List of Airports by Country and refer to the IATA code.
— When traveling across multiple airlines or multiple countries, be especially aware of the destination airport code put on your bag. I noticed a code of LHR (London Heathrow) on my bag when my destination was elsewhere in Europe. When I asked why, I was told that I had to claim my bag at LHR and re-check in completely before my next flight. While this isn’t always the case of claiming/re-checking your bag, had I not noticed that the tag said LHR and questioned it (since the agent never mentioned anything to me), my bag would have been going ’round and ’round the carousel in London while I was already in-flight to another country.
Really important! Before traveling back home, follow these exact same steps. It’s easy to put so much thought into preparing for our trips and then so easy to forget the same preparation for returning back home successfully.
I hope these low-tech, practical solutions have you experiencing the same great travel karma that I have, especially in regards to my luggage. No need to throw a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover into your bag and hope that your bag isn’t lost, though knock on wood that extra touch can’t hurt!
Watch for an upcoming post on some higher-tech options for tracking your bag. Though for now, these will get you started on your way to travel success.
p.s. For a low-tech, practical way to keep your bag’s zippers closed, watch this short video.