If at all possible, never check baggage. Delayed and missing luggage is not only a major hassle to resolve, some missing luggage is never recovered. We've traveled for weeks with just carry-on luggage, just doing laundry regularly, and when you travel with less stuff, it's frankly easier to keep track of it all.
But naturally everyone has a different point of view when it comes to baggage, and recently I've been trying to help a client track down some missing suitcases. Here are my tips:
1. Take a Nonstop Flight if Possible
More stops and tight connections increase the potential for delayed or missing luggage, so if you know you'll be checking luggage, aim to take a nonstop flight, even though that's no guarantee (sometimes luggage isn't loaded onto even nonstop flights).
2. Make Sure Your Luggage is Checked to the Correct Destination
Be familiar with the 3 letter airport code of your destination, so that you can verify that your checked luggage is indeed tagged correctly.
3. Take Good Care of Your Luggage Tags
It should go without saying, but put your luggage tags in a safe place, and for good measure, take a photo of them with your phone.
4. In Case of Irregular Operations, Be Proactive About How Your Baggage Gets Routed
If you're on connecting flights and a delay causes you to miss your onward connection, be proactive about how the airline reroutes you and luggage. For example, be leery of letting the airline put you on a different carrier with multiple connections, all of which can increase the likelihood of lost baggage. You may be better off overnighting and taking the original airline's first flight out the next day, so that the original airline remains responsible for your luggage.
Remember that once you are routed on another airline, that new airline becomes responsible for your luggage, and you won't get any more help from your originally ticketed airline.
5. If Your Luggage is Missing at Your Destination, File a Declaration to Get a File Number
If your luggage isn't at the luggage carousel, and everyone else from your flight has already gotten their baggage and departed, make sure to file a claim at the baggage department. Even if your luggage may have been lost on one of the earlier flights in your itinerary, your claim is always with the last airline that you flew. It's that airline's job to coordinate the search and if necessary to seek compensation from the airline that actually mishandled your luggage.
Make sure that you are given a file number, typically a 10 digit alpha numeric code. Keep a copy of the report you filed, since you'll also need this when submitting a lost luggage benefit claim for your travel insurance, whether through your Chase Sapphire Reserve (which has a maximum $3000 benefit amount) or via another credit card or 3rd party insurance.
6. Use the Airline's Online Delayed Baggage Search Tool
Many U.S. airlines use NetTracer, while most international airlines use WorldTracer. Here are the baggage search pages for select airlines:
American Airlines Delayed Bag Search
British Airways Missing Baggage Tracking
Cathay Pacific Baggage Tracing
Emirates Delayed Baggage Tracking
Singapore Airlines Baggage Tracing
United Airlines Baggage Tracing
7. If You Can't Get a Missing Baggage File Number, Call the Airline to Try to Find an On Hand Baggage Number
Occasionally you may not be permitted to file a missing baggage report, for example because you bought a new ticket to get yourself to your final destination, but your baggage remained in possession of your original carrier. If that happens, and you've tried without success to file a missing baggage report and been turned down, you may need to wait until the baggage appears as unclaimed luggage at an airport and an “on hand baggage” report is filed.
An “on hand baggage” report is also usually 10 digits, but unfortunately it is NOT trackable by WorldTracer, so if you put it into any of the above search fields and attempt a search, you'll receive an error that it's not found. The good news is that the code itself tells you the airport and airline that found it. The first 3 digits should be the airport where it was found, e.g. MAD for Madrid, LHR for London Heathrow, etc., and the next 2 digits are the airline code, e.g. BA for British Airways, IB for Iberia, AF for Air France, etc. followed by 5 numerals for the rest of the code.
Because you can't get any results from WorldTracer, you should call the airport where it was found, and ask to speak to representatives of the airline indicated on the code, to ensure that all your details (permanent address, temporary address if you're trying to get the luggage forwarded to you while traveling, your phone number, etc.) are part of the record.
If you ever had to track delayed luggage or a missing bag, what worked well (and what didn't)?
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