1. Don’t leave the airport without submitting the proper paperwork
After the horror sinks in that your bag didn’t make the trip, make sure your first action is to go to the local baggage office for that airline and submit the required forms. Many airlines require you to submit this prior to leaving the airport. Additionally, if the airline doesn’t immediately hand you a claim number, take a picture of the completed form with your cell phone. The airline I flew told me they would email me a claim number and receipt after processing the form, but I never received it.
2. Always try to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on
I know this isn’t always possible but it can buy you time before having to go to the store to buy new clothes. Unfortunately I didn’t do this, so I had to immediately go shopping in the same clothes that I had worn the previous day which included a 15 hour flight. Many times your bag will show up a few hours later, so having an extra set of clothes may save you from going shopping all together.
3. Make sure you inform the airline of travel plans for at least a week
Sometimes it can take a week or longer to find and deliver bags, if for instance you got on a flight to Australia and your bag got on a flight to Europe. Once the bag is located and re-directed it could take days to arrive at the intended destination. If your trip involves city hopping or changing hotels make sure you tell the airline exactly where you will be on which days so your bag can possibly reunite with you along your trip.
4. Buy clothes at a large chain if possible
Worst case, your bags don’t show and you have to go buy clothes. Buy new clothes from a large chain retailer. In my instance I bought work clothes from Brooks Brothers. This is especially important if you aren’t staying in the same place. Chains have store locations in many cities and it becomes possible to return items you don’t use even after you changed cities. I bought clothes in Melbourne, but didn’t have time to return the unused clothes until a few days later in Sydney. Since Brooks Brothers has stores in both cities, the return process was easy.
5. Check in constantly with the airline
Make sure you or your representative checks in frequently with the airline in question. You will feel more at ease and will have the best possible information on when to expect your luggage.
6. Check your credit card for possible Baggage Delay, Lost Protection or Travel Insurance
Some credit cards provide Baggage Delay or Lost Baggage compensation for travel booked with that credit card. Make sure you know what benefits your credit card(s) provide. Also many different types of travel insurance come with the same coverage. If your credit card doesn’t offer such protection, it might be another reason to consider purchasing travel insurance.
How can you avoid lost bags all together?
OK, so you want to minimize your chance of dealing with something like this during your vacation, here are some ideas.
1. Don’t check bags
This is obvious but must be said. For shorter trips where all of your belongings can fit in a carry-on don’t check a bag. Most carry-ons these days have wheels and other features that make lugging them around an airport easy.
2. Non-stop flights
The less that your bag(s) gets offloaded and loaded onto an airplane the less chance you have of something going wrong. Non-stop flights are great for getting you to your destination quickly, but they also minimize the chance of losing a checked bag.
3. Avoid tight connections
Obviously non-stop flights are not always possible, so what can you do when booking flights to give your luggage a better chance of making your destination? Ensure that your connections leave enough time for the bag to get from one plane to another. Airlines will allow you to book connections for as few as 20-30 minutes. While that might be great for reducing your overall travel time, it’s not ideal for your checked bag(s). Once you land your bag takes approximately 10 minutes just to get off your first flight. From there, it typically travels to a central airport sorting facility, and then finally gets re-directed to your next flight. All these steps take time, so to give your bag the best chance I recommend at least a 1 hour connection.