What to do if the unthinkable happens on your next trip

What to do if the unthinkable happens on your next trip

Lost Luggage Blues

When an airline loses your bags, you do have some rights. You can claim up to $3400, however they won't cover business items (such as sales samples), electronics, jewelry, cash, and other valuable items. Even so, people put these things in checked luggage all the time, only to later discover that they're out of luck.

To protect yourself: Pack as light as tightly as possible so that you won't have to check bags in the first place. If that's not possible, make sure that you carry on medicines and valuable items, and just check your clothes, which are covered by the airlines if lost. If you've acquired a valuable and breakable souvenir that you absolutely must bring on board, mail or ship (using UPS, Fedex, or the Post Office) any bulky but less valuable items (such as your dirty laundry) to your home or office.

To further protect yourself, make sure that you have your name, address and mobile phone number both outside and inside the bag, and include a note indicating where you're staying at your arrival destination. Baggage ID tags do fall off sometimes, and if the airline needs to reunite you with your bags it will help if they know where you're staying. In addition, make sure you have a packing list of everything that you've packed and carry it with you so that filing a claim will be easier," suggests Bill McGee of Consumer Reports. "You might even take a photo of everything laid out on the bed before leaving so that filling out a loss claim will be easier."

You can also pay an additional charge and declare a higher value for your luggage when checking in. This "excess valuation" coverage is surprisingly affordable, and on some airlines it even covers fragile items, but only if your luggage is lost, not merely damaged.

When the lines are long at the airport

Airlines routinely warn passengers to leave plenty of time for check in and security clearance, suggesting at least an hour prior to departure for domestic flights and two or three for international ones. But in unusual circumstances, that may not be enough. Airlines do not routinely warn passengers of potential logjams, but a good travel agent will advise you that the lines are unusually long, for example, at Miami International on a Saturday morning when cruise ships disgorge their passengers all at once.

Next time: It's always a good idea to give yourself plenty of extra time checking into a strange airport: bring a good paperback to read if you discover you have time to kill at the gate, and just relax. Get your boarding pass online before arriving at the airport or use automated check in kiosks to avoid the check in line. You can also check security checkpoint wait times online at http://waittime.tsa.dhs.gov/index.html, although these are just estimates and averages, not "live" data. Many airlines, such as Delta and United, also estimate check in line and security line wait times on their sites, and US Airways warns on its site that passengers must check their luggage 45 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and an hour before international departure when using Philadelphia International

You Miss Your Connecting Flight

You take a cross country flight with a connection in Atlanta and your incoming flight is delayed, causing you to miss your onward flight, which, of course, was the last one of the day.

What the airline owes you: if the delay was the airline's fault (a mechanical or crew problem, for instance), then you should ask for overnight lodging and a meal voucher, plus transportation, if applicable, to and from the hotel, although there is no law that requires them to do provide these amenities. If the delay was beyond the airline's control then you may be out of luck.

Next time: don't take connecting flights if there's a nonstop available. "Nonstops are usually more expensive for a reason," says Alexander Anolik, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in travel law and author of Traveler's Rights.

"People desire them because there are more problems and interruptions with connecting flights." If you must take a connecting flight, says Anolik, start your journey first thing in the morning since earlier flights tend to experience fewer delays.

In addition, every US domestic flight's on time performance is tracked and is available from the airline or your travel agent. Flights are rated from 1 (on time 0-10 percent of the time) to 10 (on time 90-100 percent). By avoiding flights with poor on time performance you increase your chances of arriving on schedule. "When I start seeing 'fives' and it's a connection, I warn them," says one travel agent.

Lastly, if you absolutely must arrive on time, build in some wiggle room between connections. Instead of allowing 40 minutes to make your connection at a large and busy airport, leave yourself two hours. "A 'bricks and mortar' travel agent can build in a longer layover," says Sudeikis. "You can't do that on some of the online travel agencies."

Airlines do not guarantee their schedules, and there's no law or regulation stating that they must compensate passengers when a flight isn't on time. "Prepare for the worst," advices ASTA's Sudeikis, "and hope for the best."


Your non-refundable fare goes down in price after you buy it

Many airlines will give you a voucher, good for travel on a flight within a year from the original date, in the amount of the fare difference.

Only thing is, some airlines charge up to $200 on a domestic airfare (more for international tickets) in an "administrative" fee to reissue your ticket at the lower fare. But the good news is that some don't. Last we checked, JetBlue, Alaska, and Southwest will issue a credit voucher without deducting a fee. And some airfares (especially "consolidator" airfares) are totally non-refundable.

But even those airlines whose official policy is to deduct a fee sometimes waive it. So if you don't like the first answer you get, try again and perhaps you'll get the full amount.

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