Avoid Lost Airline Luggage: Why You Shouldn't Check in Your Bag

Ask the musicians who were looking out the window of their United plane only to see baggage handlers tossing their guitars in the air. Dave Carroll said he spent months going through proper channels to get reimbursed -- filling out forms, sending e-mails and making calls -- and got nowhere. Then he decided to shame United into action -- and produced a witty music video trashing the airline. Only after it became an Internet sensation did United suddenly reach out to him. But what about those of us who are tone deaf? What recourse do we have?

And why should we have to resort to YouTube or insurance when we're already paying the airlines to take care of our luggage? Most airlines charge a rather hefty $15 a bag online (make that $20 at the airport) -- shouldn't we expect better?

Well, sure -- and I also expect to win the lottery next week.

But, at least we've learned a few things. Keep reading for my tips.

Lost Luggage Tips

Forget checked-bags -- use a carryon whenever possible.

Do not pack valuables in checked-baggage -- leave the good stuff at home.

If you can afford it, you might give travel insurance (with a bag loss payout) a try -- but read the fine print.

Hang onto your paperwork (tickets, baggage receipts) -- if you file a claim, you'll need it all.

A final thought: one of my employees recently checked a bag, and was startled when the US Airways agent at the counter asked her if she'd packed any medication or anything else she couldn't do without for 24 hours. The agent said the airline had no plans to lose the bag, but smiled ruefully and noted that -- stuff happens.

My employee's first reaction was to grab her bag and never let go -- but after she thought about it, she appreciated the candor -- as well as the heads-up to take any "must-haves" with her.

I appreciate candor, too -- it can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings. And it might even cut down on angry e-mails in the inbox -- or keep angry music videos from going viral.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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