How Not to Lose Your Checked Bags, And What to Do if You Do

PHOTO: Lost luggage can lead to frustration.Getty Images
Lost luggage can lead to frustration.

The following is a conversation about lost and damaged bags with one of my employees (who requested anonymity). Read it for tips on how not to lose a bag - and what's next if you do.

Rick Seaney: So what happened?

Jane Doe: We got to Florence [Italy], and there we were at the luggage carousel waiting for our three bags. And waiting and waiting. Finally, one showed up. One. Turned out the other two must have got bored with flying and decided to take a break and relax in Chicago for a while. That's where we changed planes.

Rick: Uh-oh. What did I tell you?

Jane: Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. "Always use a carry-on." I've heard you say that so often I can repeat it in my sleep but what can I say, I didn't do it. Besides, there's no way a carry-on hold could hold all my stuff.

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Rick: Did you know I went to Italy for ten days with just a carry-on? So did my wife. And we did the same thing when we went to Spain last month.

Jane: (massive eye-roll) Fine, but where did you put your carry-on? Wasn't the overhead bin space all jammed up?

Rick: No. Probably because most people who go in Europe don't use carry-ons because they pack too much. Hint, hint.

Packing Tips

Jane: Guilty as charged, but I did do some things right; I had only one pair of shoes, the shoes I wore. Comfortable sandals. Worked out great.

Rick: A good start, but you could do more. I've gotten to be an expert at rolling clothes; you literally roll them up in tight bundles [and they come out surprisingly wrinkle-free]. Trust me, you can fit a lot of bundles in a carry-on. And my wife always says everything you wear should be able to go with anything else, something about staying in the same color family. Another good rule of thumb: Envision the clothes you think you'll need on vacation, then pack half of that. As for extras, I've yet to see a hotel room in Europe that didn't have a hair dryer so you can leave that at home.

One more tip: Even if you do pack a big suitcase, bring some sort of carry-on with you to hold a change of clothes, some underwear, a few toiletries, just in case the worst happens and your bag does a disappearing act. Did you do that?

Jane: Of course not.

Rick: But your bags weren't gone for good, right?

How to Report a Loss

Jane: No, but we didn't get them for more than a day so we had to buy things like t-shirts and toothpaste and hair stuff. Hotels always have shampoo but where's the conditioner? We spent about 40 euros [about $52]. It wasn't the money so much as all the time we had to waste.

Rick: What was the first thing you did when the bags didn't show up?

Jane: We went to the baggage office next to the carousel. Had to wait in a long line because we sure weren't the only ones with missing luggage! At least on an international flight we didn't have to pay a fee for the bags, and I will say the airline people were very nice but the bag was MIA until the next day.

Getting Reimbursed (Maybe)

Rick: Any luck on the reimbursement front, for your expenses?

Jane: I'm trying, but it's slow going and the problem may be that our bags were lost in a kind of no man's land. You see our first flight from LA to Chicago was on one airline [a U.S. legacy carrier] but the flight from there to Europe was on one of its code share partners [a European airline] and each one is probably blaming the other for the lost bags. Oh, in case you ever lose a bag, ha ha, hang onto your boarding passes, your bag claim tickets and any forms or letters you get from the baggage office at the carousel plus expense receipts because trust me, you'll need all that and more to put in a claim no matter how little money you're asking for.

Will I get my money back? I have no idea. I actually checked both airline sites to see if I could find out but those "contracts of carriage" do not seem to address my particular problem or I'm not finding it in all that legalese. So I may get nothing, but I'm giving it a try. UPDATE: Find out what happened at the end of the column.

At least I got the process started; last time I waited too long and got zip.

When Bags Get Damaged

Rick: Remind me what that was all about.

Jane: I picked up my bag from the carousel and the cab driver threw it in the trunk. When I came home, I left it in the living room and went to bed. The next morning, the house reeked of gasoline. The stench was coming from my bag! So, I called the airline, but I was too late. They told me if a bag is damaged you have to report it before you leave the airport; I guess they figure maybe you damaged the bag yourself on the way home and would try to blame the airline. Whatever. I wound up having to dump that bag because I couldn't get the smell off no matter what I did. So no reimbursement. Grrr.

Rick: Well keep me posted on the latest reimbursement adventure. And next time use a carry-on. Lucky for you I'm not the type to say "I told you so."

Jane: I think you just did.

UPDATE from Jane: Good old Swiss Air! They just sent me an email saying they will reimburse me for my expenses and a check for $52 is coming in the mail. Now that's what I call customer service.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.