Airports Beg Passengers: Don’t Blame Us for Lost Bags

Feb 6, 2019

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George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston must have been having a particularly bad case of the Mondays. As one does, the airport took to social media Monday to vent its frustrations:

And as the Internet sometimes does, a slew of hilarious responses ensued. The US Postal Inspection Service sassily responded:

Meanwhile, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas-Fort Worth and Miami airports tweeted GIFs back at IAH to commiserate, “Amen” and otherwise agree with the beleaguered Texas aviation hub.

Although IAH has subsequently deleted the original tweet, concerned that airport stakeholders may misconstrue the tweet’s context without additional clarification, the cheeky Twitter rant shines light on a subject that’s far less fun. Lost, delayed and damaged bags are a nightmare for everyone involved: travelers, airlines, insurance companies — and yes, airports. When our stuff goes missing, none of us are happy. Yet finding out who’s to blame — and more importantly, what to do about it — can be a confusing, frustrating process.

According to the Air Travel Consumer Report for October 2018, 132,187 mishandled baggage complaints were filed by domestic passengers — 0.24% of the total number of travelers that month. Delta Air Lines had the lowest complaint percentage, with just 0.13% of their travelers reporting issues with their checked luggage. On the other end of the spectrum, a whopping 0.5% of all Envoy Air passengers filed baggage complaints with the airline. The statistics encompass all forms of luggage mishaps, including lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered bags. And worldwide data suggests that, on average, 5.57 bags are mishandled per 1,000 passengers, according to 2017 statistics from global air transport communications company SITA.

Overall, however, baggage mishandling has dropped by more than 70% since 2007, even while the number of travelers has more than doubled, from 2.48 billion to 4.08 billion. Meanwhile, millions of dollars invested in technology and more efficient bag-tracking techniques have greatly contributed to the decrease in mishandled bags has decreased from 18.88 per 1,000 passengers in 2007, to 5.57 per 1,000. According to the SITA report, by far the biggest global factor in baggage delays stems from transfer mishandling — when bags are going between different planes, sometimes in different countries across different carriers.

That being said, the statistics don’t matter in the least when it’s your bag that’s gone missing. And despite the lower odds, luggage losses still happen often enough that there’s an entire store dedicated to reselling lost, unclaimed items. And unless you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, even a 24-hour bag delay can leave you high and dry.

To that end, here are TPG‘s top tips for minimizing the chance of luggage mishaps:

  • Don’t check it. This one’s a no-brainer, but if you can avoid checking a bag, you completely sidestep the chance of losing it on the endless miles of conveyor belts that lurk in the belly of every airport. Also, you should never check anything necessary, such as medication or an important outfit for tomorrow, or anything valuable, such as jewelry, electronics, camera gear or computers. If you can’t replace it, neither can the airlines. And these days, you never know.
  • Pack a backup. I learned this one from my mom, but it continues to be advice that holds value: Pack a spare outfit — or, at the bare minimum, a change of socks and underwear — in your carry-on bag or purse. Chances are, you won’t need it. But even if you don’t, it’s nice to be able to change into fresh clean linens over a long layover. And if you do end up needing them, there they are.
  • Tag your bag. It can seem redundant to fill out a tag when the gate agent is just going to add that nice stickered luggage tag. But including your full name, flight number and final destination can help expedite the process of getting your items to you in the off-chance that your bag is delayed or misplaced in any way.
  • Make a list, check it twice. In the off-chance that all external identifying information is stripped off of your bag, it never hurts to print off an extra copy of your flight itinerary and toss it into your checked suitcase along with your contact info and hotel name, just as a final layer of identification insurance.
  • Shine bright. Your soul might gravitate toward the chic sophistication of a matte black suitcase, but so do most other travelers — especially if you sport luggage of a popular brand, such as Away. If you can’t opt for a bright, unusual color or print, try tying a distinctive ribbon to the handle, accessorizing with a contrast bag band or distinctive luggage tag or maybe even stickers to showcase your travel personality.
  • Build in some buffer time. Your chances of experiencing bag delays rise any time you have a layover, especially if your flights encounter storms or the duration of your layover is relatively short between flights. If you’re worried about not getting a checked item on time, plan ahead by booking an itinerary that builds in a little bit more buffer time between flights. Similarly, you can also plan ahead to avoid known trouble zones, such as the Northeast during the height of blizzard season or Chicago during thunderstorm season.
  • Know your next steps. Statistically speaking, baggage delays are a “when” problem, not an “if” problem. Despite your best efforts, your bags will get held up at some point, and 87% of travelers don’t even know that they are entitled to compensation if your luggage is lost or stolen. Before you book travel, read up on the best credit cards for delayed baggage benefits.
  • Leave a paper trail. In the worst-case scenario where you’ve made it but your bag has not, make sure you file a claim for delayed or lost luggage before you leave the airport. Most insurance claims, whether through your credit card or a third-party insurer, will require a baggage claim form proving that you let the airline know about the loss before you went on your merry way. If you’re headed off on a cruise, give the airline a copy of your itinerary so your luggage can be forwarded to the next port.

Featured photo by Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images.

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