Don’t check your bag until you read this — 7 tips to help keep an airline from losing your luggage

Jul 9, 2022

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Perhaps you’ve seen the images already: warehouses full of checked luggage. Airport check-in areas packed with bags that haven’t been processed. Baggage mountains that resemble the Rockies in their staggering scope.

Waylaid checked luggage has become a key piece of this summer’s travel woes affecting airlines and airports (though realistically, things weren’t so great pre-Memorial Day, either).

According to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports, seven out of every 1,000 bags handled were marked as lost baggage in the first quarter of 2022. That number jumps to nine bags per 1,000 if you’re flying American Airlines.

When we first brought up this topic at a recent TPG staff meeting there was only one solution that made sense: Don’t check your bags.

While that’s solid advice, there are obviously times when traveling with only a carry on just isn’t possible. This is especially true if you’re taking a long vacation, carrying gear for specialty trips or are heading to events with dressy clothes that you prefer not to end up looking like a crushed bag of chips.

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So we reassessed. Instead of trying to figure out what to do once the airline loses your luggage, we looked into what travelers can do to reduce the chance their checked luggage will goes astray in the first place.

An important note, though: Never check anything that you can’t live without. This includes car keys, glasses or medicine. Also, leave your most precious items at home to avoid possible heartbreak.

With that, here are our tips:

Related: Why you should always check where your bag is being tagged at check-in

suitcases all over airport
Late-arriving luggage pictured on June 23, 2022 at the airport in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Jonas Walzberg/Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

Prep your bag in advance

Take a few minutes before you head to the airport to remove all existing labels and tags from your previous trips. We’re talking destination bag tags as well as those little bar code stickers that get put on your suitcase.

You don’t want to have any confusion about where your bag is headed on your current trip, so make sure all of those old codes are gone.

Then put your name and contact information pretty much everywhere. Add a baggage tag on the outside with your name and phone number, plus one inside in case that one falls off or gets lost.

TPG senior editor Benét Wilson also slips her business cards into the pockets of her bags. Additionally, executive editor Scott Mayerowitz recommends printing out your boarding pass and putting it inside your suitcase for extra validation.

Several TPGers, myself included, photograph both the outside of the checked suitcase and the inside with its contents for future identification purposes.

Get to the airport early

Want your bag to arrive when you do? Do not be the person checking your bag as the doors to your flight close. Yes, they may say you can check a bag up to 30 minutes before departure. However, if there’s a way to push back early and your bag is late, they’re not going to wait for it.

But don’t check your bag too early

To clarify, we’re not talking about problems checking a bag in the three hours pre-departure that the airlines currently recommend (and a benchmark that you should follow for international flights).

This is more of an issue of showing up four to six hours pre-departure to check in, says TPG senior writer Katie Genter. That’s when, she says, luggage might go into a holding area instead of sorted into the area for your flight, adding an unintended in-airport layover for your baggage that could lead to issues.

Keep an eye on the printer

When it comes time to check your bag, keep an eye on the tags that are printing.

Does it have the right airport and code? Your correct name and frequent flyer number? (This is helpful to keep track of your bags on airline apps.) Is the barcode clear or smudged? (If it doesn’t look crisp, have them print it again.) If you qualify for elite and priority tags, make sure they’re added to your bags as well.

Watch your bag go on its way

After you’ve confirmed that the agent correctly tagged your bag, don’t walk away quite yet. Stay and watch to make sure your luggage is put on the conveyor belt or added to the checked bags cart (this is important for curb checking where available, too).

Add an electronic tag and follow on the app

This is a great time to utilize technology. TPGers are big fans of Apple AirTags to keep an eye on the progress of their suitcases.

There are a number of other trackers on the market, too, including LugLoc and Trakdot. They all have some minor operating differences. However, ultimately all allow you to keep track of your luggage via Bluetooth or GSM tracking technology on your phone.

I also recommend downloading your carrier’s app since most of the large airlines now offer digital luggage receipts and bag tracking within their apps .

Hold on to your receipts

Finally, hold on to those baggage receipts the agent hands you. If something does awry, you’ll need them as proof. It will also help you get compensation from the airline for any issues.

Related: Last one standing at the carousel: Here are your odds of your bag being delayed or lost

For additional advice on mishandled, lost or damaged baggage, check out these TPG stories:

Featured photo by Jonas Walzberg/Picture Alliance/Getty Images.

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