Lost luggage is the jetsetter’s worst nightmare. Many frequent travelers I know actually refuse to check bags as an avoidance tactic.
I personally got over the “checking bags makes you less of a road warrior” shtick a few years ago. Sometimes it’s just a necessity – and no longer one I feel guilt or shame over. And occasionally in this era of “I refuse to pay baggage fees so I’m going to haul everything on the plane with me” tactics, one is forced to check a bag even against their own best plans to carry on.
On my recent trip to Istanbul, I knew checked bags would be a necessity. I was on a 12-night trip that included a 7-night luxury cruise. Although I technically could have made it with a carry-on bag, I also had planned in advance to do some bulky shopping in Istanbul that necessitated checked bags on the return. Rather than risk Turkish packing, I traveled with two regulation-sized carry-on bags – one with most of my clothing as a cabin bag, one a checked half-empty carry-on bag (that on my way over that contained sunscreen cans/bottles that were over 100 ml, a roll of bubble wrap, a roll of packing tape, and a large collapsible Longchamp tote – and one the way back, contained carefully wrapped dishware and dirty clothing). The collapsible tote also came in handy when I made an 11th hour unplanned rug purchase in the Grand Bazaar! But my other packed carry-on held all the essentials I needed for the next 48 hours of travel (toiletries and clean clothing).
What was unplanned was the Istanbul ground staff deciding that my regulation-sized Tumi carry-on was not appropriately sized for cabin baggage. I was flying British Airways Club World to London for an overnight to be followed by BA First back to the US. Rather than argue, I handed over my carry-on with a request to “short check” the back to London Heathrow.
I arrived in London Heathrow to discover that my short checked bag did not arrive on the carousel with the others. I was in minor meltdown mode as everything I needed for the night was in that force-checked bag.
Here are few lessons I learned along the way:
- Make certain that your bag is properly tagged with identifying information – if you are a frequent flyer on the airline you are on, your frequent flyer bag tag (should you have one) may be sufficient, but ideally you should have a second tag with a business card or other contact information.
- Keep absolutely essential items in one place, such as a packing square at the top of your bag. While you might not plan to check your bag, this makes it easy to quickly grab anything essential should a counter agent or gate agent decide that your bag will NOT be boarding the plane with you.
- Double check the bag tags that are being put on your bag. If it’s at the check-in counter, they should be printed and you’ll receive a numbered receipt that includes the destination. Don’t leave the counter without checking these. If it’s at the gate, it may be a handwritten tag. Double check the agent’s instructions.
- When you arrive, if your bag is not on the belt, check the counter/pulled baggage near the belt. If you have encountered delays or had a connection, it’s possible your bag flew on a different flight and made it in ahead of you.
- File a missing bag report with the airline as soon as you realize your bag did not make the flight. Ask them to trace the last scan for your bag as well. This will sometimes offer clues to where your bag might be and when it might be arriving.
- Proactively ask what the airline can provide you in the interim. When I’ve had an urgent business meeting where I’m missing files or business appropriate attire, I have been successful in getting the airline to agree to reimburse a specific amount of expenses until the bag is located. Many airlines also have emergency kits – in my case, BA provided me a kit that included a toothbrush/toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, a razor, and an XL men’s white t-shirt (which became my sleepwear for the night).
- Provide as much specific information to the airline as possible – a contact cell phone, information on where you will be overnighting, and onward flight information can assist in getting your bag routed to you once it is found.
- If you are in transit and your bag has not been located before you leave that location, follow up again with baggage services in that airport.
For me, #8 was key. I provided my overnight lodging information in London to the Heathrow ground staff including the time I anticipated departing my hotel the following morning. I received an update text around 2 am that my bag had been located but it did not arrive at my hotel before I departed for the airport.
Upon my onward check-in at Heathrow, BA First check-in staff followed up on the request and expedited access back into the International Arrivals Hall for me where I discovered my bag sitting in a supervisors office, ready for onward routing. They released the bag to me as a properly sized carry-on and I was able to finally change clothing (after 24 hours in the same dress) and freshen up properly in the Concorde Lounge, so my adventure in lost baggage ended, at least for this journey.
I’ve love to say this is the first time this has happened, but it’s not. But it will be the last time I allow an airport surprise to derail my travel. I am now prepared.