I took someone else’s bag — reader mistake story

Dec 30, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Kaaren, who made a hasty exit from baggage claim after a flight home:

I recently flew into Atlanta from Oakland on Southwest Airlines. When I got my bag, I saw that my leather tag was missing, AGAIN! This had happened twice before in the previous year. I was exhausted after the flight and anxious to get home, so I just figured I’d have to find a different, more secure luggage tag.

When I was 30 minutes up the highway, I got a call from a number I did not recognize. I decided to answer after the same number came up three times, and found out I had taken someone else’s bag that had no name tag. (Or so I thought — I discovered the long white tag attached by the airline did have a printed name on it in small type at the very end.)

It was my mistake, so I turned around and my normal 45-minute trip home from the airport took a total of two and a half hours! I will never take a bag out of the airport again without checking the name on the long white tag.

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A lot of luggage looks similar, so if you prefer to check bags and yours have a generic appearance, I recommend taking measures to set them apart. A bag that stands out is not only less likely to be mistaken for others, but also eases your visits to baggage claim — you won’t have to scrutinize every bag at the carousel, since you’ll be able to tell from afar when yours rolls off the conveyor belt.

Adding flair like a colorful luggage tag or luggage belt is a good start, but anything you attach can also detach (like Kaaren’s tag did previously). Patches and stickers are more permanent and unique solutions, or if you’re not concerned about preserving a neat aesthetic, a can of spray paint will do the job. If you forego a luggage tag, leave contact information where it can be found easily in the event your bag is lost — a business card in a small pocket is a viable solution. In any case, confirm you have the right bag before you leave the airport (for your own sake as well as the unfortunate person whose bag you might end up with otherwise).

Your name appears on the long, white tag attached to your luggage at the check-in counter, but beware that the tagging process has its own potential pitfalls. Airline staff have been known to swap tags (whether accidentally or maliciously) and mix up claim receipts. Even if you get the correct tag, it may include incorrect routing information, in which case your bag will end up somewhere you are not. The takeaway is that if you check bags, then you should also check the tags to make sure they match your itinerary.

Related: What to do when your luggage is delayed or lost by an airline

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Kaaren a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Brian A Jackson/Getty Images.

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