As you patiently wait for your bag to roll down the carousel, there's always the awful suspicion that it may have been lost. Then, as if by magic, your luggage appears among the very last batch, and all is right with the world.
It's true that complaints of lost luggage have dropped considerably over the last several years, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still happen. Sure, you could refuse to check a bag and vow to travel only with a carry on, but that won't work for all passengers. And what if your bag is gate checked at the last minute?
If you must check a bag, these simple strategies could keep your bag from being lost forever.
Allow Yourself (And Your Bags) Adequate Time to Connect
If your trip involves a connecting flight, make sure you have plenty of time built in to your itinerary to go from your arrival and departure gates. Nobody wants to hang around the airport longer than necessary, but if you cut it too close, your bag may not have adequate time to make the connection.
And don’t forget that connections on some international flights require passengers to pick up luggage at baggage claim, exit, recheck in, and drop bags off again.
Related Story: What to Do When Your Checked Bag Is Lost
Luggage Tags Are a Good Idea
Most luggage will already have some sort of ID tag dangling off the handle, but if yours does not, make it a priority to attach one before departing.
There are endless varieties to choose from, be it a classic leather number or something more technologically advanced. Tags with special QR codes or embedded microchips make it easier to determine the exact location of your bag. That can come in especially handy if the airline-issued adhesive tags should somehow manage to get separated from your bag en route.
When choosing a luggage tag, opt from something well made that won’t damage easily, and in colors or patterns that make it easier to identify your bag. Materials like neoprene, plastic, silicone, and stainless steel may hold up better in the elements.
It was once standard practice to include your name, telephone number, and address on luggage tags. In the pre-internet days of travel, there were only so many ways to reunite a passenger with a lost bag. Nowadays, you might prefer to include only your email address and telephone number, or even social media handles.
For privacy’s sake, some travelers are more comfortable limiting personal info to just their first initial and last name along with a telephone number.
Related Story: The U.S. Airlines Most Likely to Lose Your Luggage
Place Your Itinerary and Contact Info Inside Your Bag
Again, bags have been known to wriggle free of those adhesive Tyvek luggage tags supplied by the airline. If you happen to have an additional luggage tag, great, but there’s always the possibility of that, too, coming off. As an extra precaution, include a printed copy of your complete travel itinerary inside and contact information inside your bag, on top, where it’s easy to spot. That way, airline staff won’t have too much sleuthing to do should they need to forward your lost bag to you.
Check in Early to Avoid Luggage Being Delayed or Lost
There are plenty of reasons why the airlines suggest passengers arrive several hours before departure, but baggage is certainly a biggie. It takes some time for baggage handlers to transport all those bags from the check-in drop off all the way over to the airplane. Those running dangerously close to the wire may clear the long lines at security, but the bag you checked last minute may not be so lucky.
Avoid nail-biter sprints to the gate and lost luggage by arriving at the airport at the suggested time.
Consider Shipping Your Luggage
Airlines continue to hit passengers with higher bag fees, but is the service provided really worth what they’re asking? Sure, airlines offer some protections when bags are lost, but collecting on a claim against your carrier can require a lot of time and energy. The airlines will often do whatever it takes to drag out your claim until it is no longer valid and they’re legally off the hook.
It’s a different story at UPS or FedEx, where it’s far easier to track packages (in this case, the packages are your bags) and claims against lost or damaged packages require less, if any, teeth pulling.
Of course, the other perk of shipping bags is you don’t have to cart them to and from the airport or navigate a new city while dragging them behind. Just ship what you need and it’s there when you arrive. Obviously, you might have to carefully consider the shipping time and maybe ship a few days in advance, or wait a day or so on the other end.
For families carrying a lot of bags, or really anyone who identifies as a heavy packer, you can stand to save a good bit of money by shipping ahead.
Take a Pic, It’ll Last Longer
Lose a bag and the airline will ask you to complete an itemized list of the contents of your bag, along with the monetary value of each item.
If your memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, or you just want photographic evidence, snap a quick pic of your bag’s contents before zipping it shut.
In fact, take a photo of the outside of your bag as well. It could come in handy if your bag is lost and the airline requests a description of the bag. A pic will help them better identify your bag.
And once your bag has been tagged at the bag drop, take a photo of the tag numbers before it heads down to the baggage handlers.
Add Some Personality and Make Your Bag Easier to Spot
There’s a good reason why airport PA systems constantly remind you to check your tag at baggage claim before exiting the airport. So many bags really do look the same and, after a long day of travel, it’s easy to mistakenly grab a bag that kinda looks like yours, but actually belongs to someone else.
To help yourself better spot your bag, and also to prevent others from mistaking your bag for their bag, consider adding a little extra color to your bag. Wrap a patterned luggage belt around the center of your suitcase, ideally one in a bold color or easy to recognize pattern.
Splashy luggage tags and stickers will also help set your bag apart from all the other little black wheeled suitcases of the world.