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Saving luggage from the ether

More than half of the world's lost bags meet their fate during transfers from one aircraft to another.

More than half of the world's lost bags meet their fate during transfers from one aircraft to another.

Every business traveller and frequent flyer knows the scene. You arrive at your destination but your bag never made it onto your plane. Maybe it's somehow made its way to another airport entirely.

We've all been there, done that and got nothing but the T-shirt we wore on the plane to show for it.

Pack your carry-on bag as if you expect your checked luggage to be delayed. 

An analysis of annual Air Transport Industry Baggage Report by Flight Centre found that one piece of luggage for every 100 passengers loses its way at the airport.

This represents 25 million pieces of luggage 'mishandled' around the world per year. 25 million bags that are delayed, damaged and in some cases actually lost (or stolen), never to be seen again.

"For every Boeing 737 aircraft, carrying around 189 passengers, approximately two people aboard will lose an item of luggage," says Flight Centre's Colin Bowman.

I've been blessedly fortunate on my travels. Only once have I had a bag go AWOL en route to another country, and that was due to a too-tight connection at Hong Kong swapping between flights.

That bag arrived the next morning, but left me without a clean change of clothes for a dinner that night – a sin for which the airline coughed up sufficient cash to buy me a new shirt and a quick press of my pants.

Rules to fly by

Lesson one: pack your carry-on bag as if you expect your checked luggage to be lost.

The more you put into your checked luggage the more you stand to be inconvenienced if it goes astray.

Don't go overboard, of course. Just stick to the essentials.

On international flights with a connection, the chance of lost luggage increases dramatically. More than half of the world's lost bags meet their fate during transfers from one aircraft to another.

So on all trips with a transfer I've upgraded from a laptop bag to a roller which stows into the overhead bins.

That gives me room for a clean shirt, a pair of trousers plus a few other items that I'll need on the job.

Here are some more tips to reduce the risk of your bag becoming a statistic in next year's lost luggage report.

Before you get to the airport pull out your smartphone and take a photo of your checked luggage. Keep that photo on your phone. If the bag is lost en route it's much easier to show that photo to the baggage claim desk rather than try than try and describe the bag.

In fact, take some snaps of the contents of the bag as well. Many lost luggage forms ask you to state the contents, and if your bag ends up permanently lost then you'll have a better case with your travel insurance.

Slip your business card in the transparent card window on the bag tag and ensure you remove any previous baggage tags from your case. Keep an eye out for those little barcodes that some airlines peel off the main tag and stick on the back and sides of your luggage.

At the check-in desk

Doing the self-check in and bag-drop routine? Make sure to peel off all the backing from the tag's adhesive section. Don't leave a strip waving in the breeze, because the tag is more likely to fall off - or be yanked off by the moving parts in the baggage system.

If you're entitled to a priority bag tag because you're flying in business or first class, or are a top-tier frequent flyer with your airline, make sure the check-in staff attach the appropriate fluorescent priority tag.

Considering that 85 per cent of all mishandled bags were delayed or diverted at the point of baggage handling, that tag could be what keeps your bag on the right track.

Check in staff sometimes overlook tagging based on your frequent flyer status when you're flying with an airline which belongs to the same alliance as the one responsible for your status. For example, if you're a Qantas Platinum on an American Airlines, BA or Cathay Pacific flight, you may have to ask for your bags to be appropriately tagged.

If you're in the market for new luggage, buy coloured or patterned bags that will stand out from the crowd. A black 22-inch wheeled carry-on bag in a pile of lost luggage is like a needle in a haystack.

I've even heard of passengers who've had their non-descript black bag taken off a plane because it was assumed to be the black bag of a 'fail to board' passenger who didn't show up for the flight.

Avoid tying loose ribbons to your black bag, however. These are more likely to get your bag stuck in the luggage system.

What's your experience with lost luggage? How have you fared with airline reimbursement and what are your own tips for helping your bags end up on the same flight as you?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT

18 comments so far

  • A good way to make your luggage easy to spot on the carousel is to buy (or make) a stencil and some brightly coloured fabric paint. With these you can mark the front and back of your luggage so it is easy to identify your bags no matter what way up they are. I can always spot my luggage thanks to the yellow kangaroos on my bags.

    Western Vic
    Date and time
    July 09, 2012, 3:55PM
    • Good tips David. I also suggest always packing one's phone charger in one's carry on luggage as nothing is worse than having no bag and no phone.

      Female BT
      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 4:39PM
      • I flew to Brisbane one evening and my luggage flew to Perth - the check-in clerk had read the wrong name and sent my bag to the wrong place. Always check your baggage claim stickers to make sure they say the right thing!
        I will say this for Qantas - I arrived in Brisbane late in the evening, my bag arrived at my hotel from Perth by 9 am the following day. The Brisbane team contacted the Perth team and my bag was sent on the first available plane, a red-eye.

        Near the Beach
        Date and time
        July 09, 2012, 7:23PM
        • I had a bag go missing this year, we went to NYC over Easter from Bne via Syd via LA to NYC.. geez it was a long flight and no bag. I had to survive three days in NYC without my bag, its the first time it's ever happened to me, lucky my partner's bag arrived. I had to use his phone /iphone charger and one of his Tshirts. But otherwise I had to purchase lots of stuff, it was COLD in New York, it's actually really awful without your bag. I learnt something new at that time, I will carry a full change of clothes.. undies,socks,pants,shirt & top in my carryon for international flights and make sure I take phone charger, some makeup & moisturiser, toothpaste etc, a spare tshirt ( for sleeping), but nothing can be done about shoes and warm items such as coat etc. My shoes I wore, were not walk around New York shoes, so I had to buy some shoes and lots of other things, lucky I had travel insurance cause effectively Qantas said " too bad, so sad". Until you experience it.. and I sure hope you don't have to... having no bag, or even delayed a few days really is awful, downright awful and does ruin the experience. My first time in New York and for the first three days I was most unhappy, it did make a difference to how I felt, infact I wanted to return home I was so sad.

          Date and time
          July 10, 2012, 6:09AM
          • Sorry to hear that - my trip Athens-Paris-Tokyo-Sydney went without a hitch using 2 different airlines - checked y luggage in at Athens and saw it in Sydney.

            Date and time
            July 10, 2012, 9:36AM
        • Some years ago our family of three arrived in NY late on Christmas eve. My wife's bag was on the carousel, my daughter's and mine were nowhere to be seen. I was in shorts(!!) and a lightweight pullover (we'd been on a tropical cruise) but worse, all my prescription medication (blood pressure, cholesterol) was in the checked bag! We went through the lost bag routine with the airline and made our way to our hotel on Madison Ave. The next morning I called the airline and the bags were still missing. I needed to try and find replacement meds so I went to the front desk, still in shorts, and asked for help. The concierge lent me the doorman's greatcoat to go out into a 0 degree NY Christmas Day. He also pointed me to a pharmacy that might be open. I wandered off down 5th and stumbled on St Patrick's as Christmas Mass started, so I went to Mass. The military style greatcoat looked a little out of place but what the heck! I later found that open pharmacy ('drug store') but without a prescription they couldn't help me. Back to the hotel to find that my bag had magically turned up there before me. But not my daughter's. So early on Boxing Day we went shopping at Macy's with her $100 compensation from the airline and she bought $100 worth of Calvin Klein underwear??? Her bag arrived that afternoon... Lesson: When travelling OS dress for your destination and carry anything vital like medication.

          Date and time
          July 10, 2012, 8:34AM
          • If travelling with your partner, apart from having some spare clothes in your carry on, carry some of each other's clothes in your bags. I carry some pieces for my wife and she carries some for me - that way if one bag has a longer trip, then at least you have some pieces.

            When collecting bags at the end of the trip, leave one person standing back and the other as the retriever. Alternately, to be truly bogan, the whole group should crowd right up to the baggage carousel and ensure no one else gets a chance to see or retrieve their bags.

            Date and time
            July 10, 2012, 9:00AM
            • Craig - Wollongong July 10, 2012, 9:00AM

              "....Alternately, to be truly bogan, the whole group should crowd right up to the baggage carousel and ensure no one else gets a chance to see or retrieve their bags....."

              Can't believe there is someone else that has some manners and doesn't act like a sheep. I can't believe the selfishness that happens at baggage carousels. It's not hard to stand back with a bit of dignity so everyone can see their bags rather than crowd up to the front. They won't even move when you find your bag so I find myself bashing it into them so they get out of the way. Frustrating.

              Carousel respect
              Date and time
              July 10, 2012, 10:47AM
            • Yep, the bogans.. you can see them at every baggage carousel... I mean guys what are the lines for ????? eeewww. Yep, I just push in, say excuse me and proceed to grab the bag and if it bashes into them, then so be it.... idiots!!

              Date and time
              July 10, 2012, 1:21PM
            • Thankyou Carousel respect - glad to know I'm not alone.

              These people are the same ones that must be standing as the pilot finishes taxiing the plane to the gate. Then they scurry down to the baggage carousel to be there first. Often I am one of the last off the 'plane and I walk down to the carousel just in time to see my bag arrive. (It takes just as much, if not more time, for your bag to arrive in the terminal as it does for you.)

              I often hear as I collect my bag "NO REALLY! Why don't you stand ON the carousel - it'll make life easier for everyone" or some similar comment and loud too. I still haven't worked out who says it - puzzling.

              We are all relieved when our bags arrive at the same destination, but it makes you think some people have packed their child or pet in their bag the way they obsess over its appearance.

              Date and time
              July 10, 2012, 1:34PM

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