I’m a pretty regular flyer, travelling as I do to my company’s offices in North America, Europe and occasionally beyond. Getting my luggage at the end of any journey is something that I generally take for granted, even if very seldomly, it gets to the destination a day or two after I do. I suppose that with all my travel it was inevitable that at some point my luggage would not make it at all.
Now, I know that some people have a talent for packing everything into carry-on – something I try to do if I am only away for a few days – but I am more than happy to take a short extra wait for my stuff at the arrivals hall if it means I can bring the ‘extras’ – clothes for unexpected weather, regular-sized liquids and toiletries, running gear etc. It’s also nice not to have to worry about getting your ‘spot’ in the overhead bins – especially in economy class – or the extra attention that single men travelling trans-Atlantic without checked in baggage seem to get from security. Twice in recent times I’ve been singled out for a special search, and both times when I had no checked-in luggage.
But as of right now, it’s been a week since I last saw my luggage, and nobody seems to know where it is. Here’s the quick story: I checked-in at Cork, connected in Heathrow, and took an onward flight to Toronto with Air Canada. No delays, or any of the usual stuff that generally causes luggage to miss a connection. On arrival at Toronto I was paged to baggage services, and informed of my luggages’s failure to make the connection. I was actually happy with this, as I was told before I wasted an hour watch other people’s bags go around the carousel. And I had my essentials, so I just made the report, hopped into my car hire and to my hotel. But the luggage did not arrive the next day, or the next, etc….. The online world baggage tracer website was next to useless, and the 1-888 number put me through to an Indian call centre where they didn’t have much more information than was on the website. They approved me to spend $100 USD (although this is Air Canada and I was in Canada) for emergency toiletries and clothes. $100 does not go far!
So, right now, I am without my stuff, leaving Canada, and without any clue if my luggage and I will ever be re-united. The next steps are daunting. I must submit a report within 21 days of the loss, answering detailed questions about what was in the bag, providing original receipts for all the items, original tickets and baggage tags, and dates of when each item was purchased and from where. I really don’t understand what level of obsessive compulsive disorder that Air Canada (and I suspect other airlines too) expect their customers to have. Nobody keeps receipts for all their clothes and personal items, do they? Do they?
So, what have I learned for the future? Here are my tips:
- ALWAYS put one of those address tags on your bag. They’re free at the check-in counter. They are not useless, outdated remnants of a bygone travel age.
- Put an envelope in your luggage and write “In case of loss”, and write your name, phone number and email address on it too. If someone accidentally takes your luggage from a carousel, it would be invaluable for them to not have to contact you through an Indian call centre! Inside the envelope, put a copy of your travel itinerary and related dates.
- Keep receipts for expensive clothes. OK, you can probably suck up the cost of new socks and underpants, but I found that 3 or 4 items accounted for most of the cost of replacement. Don’t forget to keep a receipt for your luggage too. Good luggage can be expensive.
- Minimize what you check-in. Things to avoid checking-in: jewelery, GPS watches (more on that later), things you WILL need on arrival, work swipe cards, car keys, money, driver’s licences, chargers, GPS navigation systems, laptops, tablets, phones, essential documents, anything sentimental or irreplaceable.
- Take extra in your hand luggage. Spare socks, underwear, t-shirt and shorts will make your luggage-less experience less annoying and a lot more hygenic. You’ll need to do some laundry with the clothes you travel in, and you’ll need something to wear while they’re being washed.
- Take a photo of your luggage - inside and out. Know the brand name of your suitcase or bag. Use a photo to jog your memory of what is in it. If you’re like me, you’ve been packing that same old suitcase in auto-pilot for years and having to stop and think what you put in, or what brands and labels are outside the bag is not as easy as it sounds.
- Declare valuable items at check-in. It’s best to bring expensive stuff in your hand luggage. My lost GPS watch could easily have been placed in my laptop bag. But if you can’t, then you are in a much stronger position if it is lost. The airline might charge you for this, but it’s a cheap insurance policy.
- Speaking of Travel Insurance, I’m not sure if my annual multi-trip insurance covers baggage loss, but I do see they they offer business travel insurance. This is is something I need to look into.
- Keep your travel documents. Finished the first let of your journey? Hold on to your tickets and baggage tags until you know you won’t need them.
- Ask for an overnight bag. Airlines usually have a bag of essential toiletries that will keep you going for a few days.
Finally, just a general thing – keep your cool. The agent on the other end of the phone did not lose your bag, did not set up a call center on the other side of the world, did not build a useless website for tracking luggage, and is not more motivated to help you out if you’re taking your frustrations out on them.