Lost or Stolen Luggage: tips to protect your airline baggage.

Lost, damaged or stolen luggage: Scott Mueller offers tips to protect your airline baggage.
The author, Scott Mueller, found his luggage on the
carousel
but clearly not as he had packed it!

Lost or Stolen Luggage: tips to protect your airline baggage.
By Scott T. Mueller
Author of The Empty Carousel
A Consumer’s Guide to Checked
and Carry-on Luggage

“If you can’t replace it, live without it, or seal the deal without it, don’t pack it.”

Claims for lost baggage are skyrocketing with 10,000 bags lost every day in the US alone. In 2006 more than 240,000 bags worldwide never found their owners. From May to July 2007, more than one million pieces of luggage were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered by U.S. airlines according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Lost luggage, stolen luggage, damaged luggage, The Empty Carousel guidebook.

Very simply, the baggage handling system has become a major challenge for the airlines and sometimes that translates into a nightmare for the consumer. However, the consumer is far from powerless in these situations. There are many things that travelers can do, starting with packing and labeling their luggage with forethought and care, and finishing with knowing their rights and procedures if checked luggage does disappear, get delayed or damaged.

I worked in the US airline industry for almost twenty years, finishing with five years as the baggage services system manager for one of the largest domestic airlines in the US. Working with travelers in distress every day, I have learned what works and what does not. I have also learned how to minimize the risks and reduce the pain in such situations. Let’s start where every traveler has the most control …. labelling their bags.

Lost luggage, stolen luggage, damaged luggage, The Empty Carousel guidebook.

Lack of proper identification is the #1 reason why bags are not reunited with their owners. Minimizing the risk of that happening starts before you even check in at the air terminal:

Lost, damaged or stolen luggage: Scott Mueller offers tips to protect your airline baggage.

1. The name on the bag has to match the name of the person traveling. The name, address and telephone number must be printed clearly and understandably, not in abbreviated shorthand.

2. Name tags must be sturdy and attached firmly enough to withstand getting pulled in mechanical belts and other stresses the baggage will experience while transported through the system. The best system is to put identification into a pocket holder that is flush with the design of the luggage and make sure the pocket is affixed firmly and securely to the bag.

3. It is a good idea to put a legal size sheet of paper with your identification and flight itinerary into a plastic sleeve or zipper locking bag and place it inside your luggage right on top, so that it is clearly visible when someone opens your bag looking for ID. Your name and home telephone number as well as the name and phone of your first destination are all good pieces of information for the airline or a law enforcement inspector to locate you. If you are going on a tour, the operator’s contact information is also helpful.

Lost, damaged or stolen luggage: Scott Mueller offers tips to protect your airline baggage.

4. It helps to add a colorful and unique visual means for distinguishing your luggage so it is less likely to be taken by mistake by another passenger. As well, such distinguishing features will help baggage staff assigned to look for a lost piece of luggage have another means of confirming this is the missing piece.

5. When you check in, make sure that you ask the airline to check your bags all the way to your final destination if you are making connecting flights.

Following these steps does not guarantee against baggage being lost, but it stacks the odds in the traveler's favor. I have compared notes with airline members of the U.S. Air Transportation Association (ATA) and the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). There really are very few differences when it comes to luggage and how people can act to protect themselves.

Airlines consider carry-on luggage as being “in the possession of the owner” and therefore the sole responsibility of the owner. They accept no responsibility for loss of carry-on bags, whether stolen, accidentally carried off by another passenger, or pilfered by someone in the aircraft cabin.

The Empty Carousel, Scott T. Mueller, lost baggage, stolen baggage.
Lost or Stolen Luggage: tips to protect your airline baggage.

Most bags are stolen at the baggage carousel when flights arrive at their destination. After landing, go immediately to the baggage claim area and stand near the beginning of the carousel belt. Thieves watch for bags that have traveled around the belt system more than once, possibly indicating that the owner is absent. Now that almost every bag has wheels, weight or bag size is no longer a deterrent.

1. Do not put your title or profession on your identification tag, or insert a business card in the ID sleeve. Thieves naturally equate certain professions with richer contents in your checked bags.

2. Expensive luggage is also an indication of possible wealth. Nondescript mid-priced bags are less likely to be noticed.

3. Theft increases during certain times of year when traditional celebrations mean that travelers may be carrying expensive gifts in their checked luggage. If you cannot carry such gifts in your hand luggage, it is better to ship them with appropriate insurance coverage.

4. Don’t travel with your most precious golf clubs, as the airline is only responsible to pay out a predetermined amount if they get stolen. Beyond that, it is between you and your insurance company. The theft of golf clubs spikes on air flights when the weather gets warm.

Lost or Stolen Luggage: tips to protect your airline baggage.

There is plenty more advice in my book, The Empty Carousel: A Consumer’s Guide to Checked and Carry-on Luggage, available for purchase in bookstores or through my website, www.theemptycarousel.com/. Its clear 90-page format is meant to be a simple “consumer’s guide”, not a novel. The modest price of US$12.95 should save readers many times the cost and inconvenience of avoidable luggage loss. However, if you have a particular question, domestic or international, requiring a more customized answer, don’t hesitate to email me through my website. If I do not have an immediate answer, I will research it and reply with realistic professional advice, usually the same day.


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The Empty Carousel by Scott T. Mueller, lost baggage, stolen baggage.
I like this book, partly because it is very tightly edited [hurrah!] with information laid out and spelled out in logical, user-friendly fashion, and partly because of the large print, double- spaced format that is easy on the eyes. Older people will love it. In addition, Scott Mueller provides just enough personal vignettes from his work in the airline industry to convince the reader that these tips for harried travelers really do make a difference. I read it from cover to cover in under an hour, and actually enjoy the experience! Even though I consider myself a professional traveler of many decades, I updated my own knowledge and learned some new tips for my 2010 travels.
Travel with a Challenge Editor


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