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Lost luggage is not a fun way to start (or end!) your vacation. Let me rephrase that: The airline losing luggage is the worst way to kick off a trip. Yet, it happens. Airline luggage gets misplaced or misdirected every single day. So, the question is, how do you keep the airline from losing your luggage?
While the overwhelming majority of bags do, in fact, make it to their destination, it only takes the airline losing your luggage to ruin the perfect trip. Therefore, we are sharing our top tips to help make sure your baggage travels with you to your final destination. Plus, we are sharing our best advice on how to cope in the unfortunate event that the airline does misplace your suitcase.
Lost Luggage Horror Stories
It seems that 2022 was the year of Airline Lost Luggage horror stories. From news headlines to personal reports, we have all heard endless nightmare accounts of airlines losing luggage. Although there were some epic meltdowns, the issue wasn’t particularly limited to a single airport, country or airline – and the disruption seems destined to repeat itself for traveling in 2023.
The prospect of lost airline luggage has left many flight passengers weary of checking a bag. Our tips – while not foolproof – are a solid start to ensuring your baggage will make the trip with you.
How To Make Sure Your Luggage is Not Lost
We are outlining 10 easy steps you can take to help ensure that your checked luggage arrives to your destination at the same time that you do.
#1 Use Reliable Luggage Tags
Luggage tags have long been one of the best ways to identify luggage. You will want to make sure your luggage tag is clearly marked with your name, email address and phone number.
Although we love some of the stylish luggage tags, they are often made of poor quality and can easily be ripped from your bag. Because tags are the best way to identify luggage, we highly recommend using quality luggage tags that will stay attached throughout your bag’s journey from the check in counter to the plane to the baggage carrousel.
TuffTaag luggage tags have a solid aluminum alloy body and high-grade stainless-steel cables that attach to your bag…and don’t fall off. Travelers can insert a business card or printed label into the tag to ensure it is easy to read.
Top Tip: Quality luggage tags are one of the most Useful Gifts for Travelers!
#2 Include Contact Info Inside Your Bag
Another easy way to avoid lost luggage at the airport is to put your contact information inside your luggage. If your luggage tag does get detached from your bag, the airline will have to look inside your luggage to find out who it belongs to. If you have contact details and flight info inside your bag, they can likely expedite it to you faster.
In fact, some travelers even suggest printing an itinerary with trip destinations inside your luggage. Putting a copy of your boarding pass inside your luggage can also be a helpful identifier for airport staff.
#3 Use a Baggage Tracing Device
Technology makes finding a misplaced bag easier than ever. With a luggage tracker – like Tile or AirTags – you increase your chances of getting lost luggage back.
Simply slip the tracking device into your suitcase – and, if it goes missing, you can easily identify its location. This can be incredibly helpful information for the airline, who can then go find your bag and get it back to you as quickly as possible.
Each lost luggage tracker works a little bit differently, so you will need to find the one that best works for you.
#4 Remove Old Airline Bag Tags
Always, always, always remove the airline bag tags from your previous flight. The chances of losing luggage increases if you have multiple airline bag tags attached to your suitcase.
Airline bag tags are printed with a scannable code that tells the airline where the bag is going and who it belongs to. When there is more than one tag, it’s confusing – and there is a solid chance your suitcase could go to the wrong destination.
#5 Only Check a Quality Suitcase…and Don’t Overstuff It
Another way to steer clear of lost baggage is to use a quality suitcase for your travels.
Cheap suitcases break – and even quality luggage will bust open in transit if it is overstuffed. When a suitcase bursts open during transit, an airline employee will attempt to put it back together. However, in the rush of getting baggage on and off the plane, they may not have time to reassemble the contents and tape it back together on the spot. Instead, it gets set aside and misses the ride.
Invest in quality luggage, like Travelpro or Tumi, that won’t fall apart on route.
#6 Use Packing Cubes to Pack Your Checked Bags
Piggybacking off the previous point, a little organization in your checked suitcase can go a long way if it ends up busting open – and can keep your luggage from being relegated to the lost bags pile.
When you use packing cubes – one of my absolute favorite travel inventions – the contents of your bag are organized into each cube. So, in the case that your suitcase does take a tumble and springs open, it becomes much easier for the luggage handler to quickly reassemble your bag and send it on its way.
Top Tip: Find out more Reasons Why Packing Cubes are a must for travelers!
#7 Be Early and Prompt
After checking your bag at the check-in counter, your luggage has to make its way through the airport to the plane, just like you do. Busy airports, delays and staff shortages are all factors that can contribute to your bag getting off course. However, checking your bag in on time increases the chance it has of making it onto the correct flight.
Likewise, after deplaning, head straight for the baggage carrousel. Being at the carrousel promptly – before they begin to disperse luggage – will ensure that you are there to watch for your bag and claim it quickly.
#8 Book Non-Stop Flights or Longer Layovers
Booking a non-stop flight can help prevent a lost bag. Any time that you make a connection – where your checked bag has to be taken off one plane and put onto another – the chance of your bag going missing increases significantly.
Additionally, quick connections can also result in missing luggage. Make sure there is ample time for both you and your checked bag to make connections.
#9 Double Check the Airline Bag Tag
A simple way to avoid delayed baggage or a lost suitcase is to take a few moments to review the airline bag tag before sending your bag on its way.
Double check that the final destination airport code and flight information are correct.
Also – and it shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway – always keep your baggage claim ticket. I carry a zippered document organizer for my passport and boarding passes when I fly and I slip the baggage claim ticket in a special pocket so that I can easily retrieve it if the luggage is lost.
#10 Don’t Check a Bag
One surefire way not to let the airline lose your luggage is to not check a bag at all. Instead, limit what you pack for your trip to a carry on only!
While some travelers may scoff at the idea of taking a trip with only carry on luggage, we say the lighter the better! Use our Packing Hacks to find ways to slim down what you pack for vacation so that it fits in the overhead compartment.
Of course, you will need to make sure that your bag is an airline approved carry on luggage (including both dimensions and weight, depending on the company, route and aircraft). It’s also important to make sure that you follow the airline rules for carry on luggage in terms of what items may not be allowed to be carried on.
Alternatively, ship your luggage. Shipping your bag is a nearly guaranteed way to make sure your airline doesn’t lose your luggage. Just ship it to your destination ahead of time. While we haven’t personally tried this method to avoid lost luggage, many travelers swear by it.
However, I would like to point out the obvious that the shipping carrier could also lose your items. Still, shipping your luggage in advance of your trip will reduce stress at the airport – and you could likely know ahead of time that your shipment arrived to your destination.
Top Tip: Traveling internationally? Use our tips for the Top Long Haul Flight Essentials!
What To Do if your Luggage is Lost
Even if you have done everything right, there is still a possibility that the airline loses luggage enroute to your destination. If an airline loses your luggage, there are a few things you will want to make sure you do.
File a Report ASAP
The first step of What To Do When the Airline Loses Luggage is to file a report with the airline. Immediately go to the airline baggage counter. If there is a long line, then get on the phone and contact their Lost Luggage customer support line.
Stay in line or on the phone until you speak with someone. Immediately file a Delayed Baggage Claim. If they do not provide you with an Overnight Kit, ask for one! (Similar to a premium cabin amenity kit, it usually contains essentials, like a toothbrush and maybe even deodorant).
Also, be sure to ask for a daily allowance so that you know exactly how much they will cover for any replacement items you need to purchase.
Keep All Receipts
In the fuss and stress of how to deal with lost luggage, many travelers forget to save receipts – which can be a huge mistake!
Airline lost luggage compensation may cover costs associated with a delayed bag. According to Transportation.gov: Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed – subject to the maximum liability limits.
The airline may present you with cash or vouchers, but if they don’t then you will need to keep the receipts in order to be reimbursed.
Know Your Luggage Specifics
When attempting to find your lost luggage in a sea of lost luggage, it is imperative to know the specifics of your bag. You need to know the color, approximate size, shape and brand. If you have made any unique markings on your bag (which we talk more about in the next section), you will want to relay those to the airport staff as well.
Have a Plan for Lost Luggage
If your luggage is lost at the beginning of your trip, have a plan for what you would like done with your bag in the case that it is found.
For example, if you are planning a European trip and flying to multiple cities during your stay, you might not want your delayed luggage to be sent to the first destination (by the time it arrives, you may have already left).
Communicate your trip plans and itinerary to the airline staff member to ensure your delayed bags eventually make it to you – or, at the very least, back to your home airport.
Keep in Touch – but Be Patient
Make sure you continue to communicate with the airlines until your delayed bag is found or officially declared lost. It may take a while, so be patient (but persistent at the same time!). It could easily take a month or longer to locate your bag and get it back to you.
Also, be kind. From beginning to end, a simple smile and kindness can go a long way. Losing luggage is a horrible situation. You know it and so does the customer service representative who is trying to help locate it. Being mean doesn’t help.
Top Tips to Survive Lost Luggage
When it comes to lost baggage, it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. The following tips may not keep the airline from losing your luggage, but it may help you from losing your mind while dealing with the unfortunate situation of a missing bag.
Always Carry On Essentials
The absolute worst lost luggage scenarios are when you packed something in your luggage that you desperately need. Do not pack anything in checked luggage that is essential! This includes medications, eyeglasses, car/house keys, jewelry, cash, credit cards, important documents or expensive toiletries.
It’s also a good idea to pack at least one outfit (or at the bare minimum a clean pair of socks and underwear) so that you will at least have something clean thing to change into.
Furthermore, it is ideal that all of the above said items are packed into a bag that can fit under the seat.
With so many fellow travelers opting for Carry-On Only travel, overhead space is being maxed out, which may result in you needing to gate check your bag. Your essentials should always be packed in airline under seat luggage that is guaranteed to stay with you throughout your flight journey.
Top Tip: Use a under seat bag that can double as your travel day pack!
Don’t Put Irreplaceable Items in Checked Bags
Just like your essentials, personal items that are irreplaceable – such as a journal or anything of sentimental value – should not be placed in a checked suitcase.
When packing your checked bag, consider each item that you put inside it. Can you replace it? If not, pack the item in your carry on luggage.
Make Your Bag Identifiable
If you are checking a black clamshell suitcase, guess what? So is everyone else! It’s like what Ben Stiller/Greg Focker says in Meet The Parents: “Ok, well don’t you think that the Samsonite people, in some crazy scheme in order to make a profit, made more than one black suitcase?”
One of the best ways to identify your luggage is to mark it in a way that makes it stand out. Some of the popular ways to make your luggage stand out is to tie ribbons or a scarf to the handle (just make sure they are secure and not so large that they get caught in the bag belts and torn off) or even better, colorful tape.
In fact, I heard have seen some travelers who use duct tape to spell their initials on the outside of their suitcase (it’s easy for your to remember and easy to see). Luggage stickers or a unique slipcover (which are fun Unique Travel Gifts!) are other ways for how to mark luggage when flying so that your bag is unique and recognizable.
Top Tip: We travel with backpacks instead of suitcases. My backpack is out-of-date with several identifiable markers, however, Kris carries a currently popular Osprey Backpack, so he has marked his backpack to make it more recognizable.
Pack Your Liquids in Plastic Bags
Unfortunately, if your bag gets sent to the wrong destination, it will need to make at least one more – if not several – flights to get back to you.
During air travel, liquid contents pressurize…and if that happens multiple times before releasing the pressure, the liquids can leak out or completely burst in your bag. Pack all liquids in a plastic bag – like a gallon size Ziplock – and then put that Ziplock into another bag (either a toiletry kit or inside a second Ziplock).
Packing your liquid contents into a plastic bag won’t necessarily keep your liquids from spilling out, but it will prevent a complete and utter mess in your suitcase.
Keep a Packing Checklist
If an airline loses your luggage, they need to know the contents of the bag. The more specific you can be, the better!
One way to ensure you know exactly what you packed in your bag is to keep a Packing Checklist. (such as my Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist!) Write down everything that you pack in your bag – from clothes to shoes to cosmetics – and then keep a copy of it while you travel (in your carry on, obviously!).
With your list, if the airline loses your luggage, you will be able to tell them exactly what you packed in your bag.
You can, of course, just write your list on a piece of paper – but we give away a FREE printable Packing Checklist here.
Top Tip: Keep all of the details of your trip organized with our printable Travel Planner!
Take Photos of Your Bag and Contents
As the saying goes, a photo is worth a thousand words. A missing bag is much easier to find if the airline personnel looking for it have a photograph showing them exactly what it look like.
Snap a photo of your luggage with your mobile phone so that if it does get delayed, the airline will be able to better identify it via picture.
Likewise, snap a few photos of the contents of your bag. Whether you take a photo of all the items laid out on your bed or folded neatly in a stack in your packing cube, the picture can help airline staff confirm the bag that belongs to you.
Buy Travel Insurance – or Use a Travel Credit Card
Trip insurance is an extra layer of protection – and we think it is essential (whether you plan to check a bag or not!).
While airlines are held responsible for some expenses accrued relating to delayed or lost luggage, there are limits and travelers can get the run-around trying to collect.
A travel insurance policy, however, will likely offer more coverage with higher limits – plus, they are typically a lot easier to deal with. Additionally, your travel insurance policy will probably cover a lot more than just lost bags; the affordable policies at World Nomads also cover illness and injury, stolen items and heaps more.
Before you purchase a policy, however, check to see what credit cards you might have that offer trip protection. We use our Chase Sapphire Preferred to book our travels (especially rental cars) as it provides some of the most robust travel protection among credit cards.
We Want To Know: Have you ever lost luggage on a flight? What are your tips to prevent the airline from losing luggage?
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