8 tips to prevent lost baggage when flying

by Charlie Leocha on December 16, 2009

SiemensBaggageClaim
These eight tips come from Siemens, a German conglomerate that builds and operates some of the world’s largest baggage handling systems. Their operations will be going at full tilt during the upcoming holiday season. If you are traveling through terminals at New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Miami, Munich or LAX then your baggage may be being handled by their systems.

Here are eight tips to spare you from being separated from your luggage according to Lukas Loeffler, Siemans’ vice president for infrastructure logistics. He should know, not only does he work at designing the systems that route our baggage, but, I’ll bet, with his job that requires crisscrossing the continents, he has had to deal with lost baggage more than once.

As the holiday season approaches, airports around the world will be facing an influx of passengers, which means more baggage. In the height of the December travel season, the spanking new jetBlue terminal at JFK on a peak day in December can process more than 27,000 bags alone. Pair this with the added air-travel stress factors of bad weather and delays, ensuring that all bags reach their correct destination is made an even more complicated and sophisticated process.

Even with high-tech baggage sorting systems, there are mistakes getting the right bag on the right plane — and the right passenger.

According to the WorldTracer2 database, in 2008, 14.28 bags per thousand passengers were mishandled worldwide (compared to 18.86 per thousand in 2007 – providing an improvement in handling rates of almost 25 percent), and the great majority were reunited with their owners in under 48 hours. However, the holiday season still brings an influx of checked luggage and mistakes can and do occur.

Want to ensure your luggage is not lost or delayed? Follow these eight easy tips to ensure your baggage has a smooth and accurate journey to its final destination this holiday season as possible.

1. Don’t wrap holiday gifts before flying
Many wrapping papers contain foil, which make packages in suitcases appear solid during the screening process, requiring the bag to be manually searched. To avoid having your presents unwrapped, wait to gift-wrap until after the flight.

2. Don’t book tight connections
The SITA Baggage Report states, “the single biggest problem for baggage handlers is when bags are being transferred from one aircraft to another.” Not allowing enough time between connecting flights increases the probability of losing your bag. Tight connections will cause your bag to be rushed through the system or handled manually; increasing the likelihood your bags won’t make your flight.

3. Check bags early
The introduction of online check-in has made the process much smoother and helps eliminate waiting in long lines. While you can check-in faster, if you are checking a bag, make sure to arrive at least 45 minutes to an hour before the flight. This allows enough time for the bag to go through the entire baggage system, eliminating the need to rush your bag through, when mistakes can be made.

4. Double-check the destination
Check the destination code on the tag before leaving the bag to make sure it is going where you are. The baggage automation system reads this code to properly route your luggage – making it imperative that the correct destination is on the tag. Also, put proper identification both on the outside and the inside of your luggage as ID tags can come loose and fall off during processing.

5. Ensure your bag is easy to open
Security is a concern for many travelers; however, a bag that TSA can’t open may cause delays and damage. If you use a lock, use TSA friendly locks so that security can open your bag using a master key. Excessive wrapping of your bag in plastic or large belts can also cause delays.

6. Keep straps tucked in
Loose straps or bulky belts around the luggage may get caught in conveyer equipment. This not only damages your luggage, but can also cause further delays, as the bag will likely need to be removed from the system and processed manually.

7. Size (and weight) does matter
Baggage systems are designed for standard luggage to be most efficient. If a bag is too large, or too bulky, you increase the chance of the bag having to be rerouted for manual sorting or extra security screenings. Small bags should be carried on, as they are also more likely to get lost along the way. Stick with standard luggage sizes, weights and shapes, as these are what the systems are designed for. Large items like golf clubs and skis are considered “oversize” for which there is a separate process and should not be a concern.

8. Stick to one carrier
Booking through some travel sites may allow you to book connections with different carriers to get the cheapest flight – but this also increases the likelihood of losing or delaying your bag. Different airlines often have two different systems for baggage sorting and luggage will have to be moved manually – which always increases the probability of mistakes.

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  • http://consumertraveler.com jbfrombremerton

    Regarding tight connections, there have been times when the airline I need to fly with gives me little choice as to connecting flights. I’ve noticed that in many cases if a passenger wants to have a longer period between flights the cost of the flight goes up and the increased cost becomes prohibitive. So far I’ve been pretty fortunate but it sure makes me nervous when passing through ATL and my scheduled connecting departure is only 41 minutes later than my scheduled arrival time. When connecting to an international flight I try to get to the connecting airport at least 3 hours before the next flight departs.
    Then I wonder where my baggage is and if it is in a secure place. I was a victim of baggage handling theft in LAX several years ago.

  • Joe

    Why not let technology solve the problem? We could have a biometric chip embedded in our necks, encoding our identity and travel information. That chip could be matched with luggage that we declare upon entering the airport. RFID scanners at the exits could make sure that no one leaves with the wrong suitcase. And scanners at every transition point could track luggage and re-direct it in case of errors. The same type of scanners could track movement of people by the embedded chip, making sure that everyone gets on the right plane, and helping, for example, parents to find their lost children. Flight crews might even be able to keep the doors open a little longer if they see a blip on their screens that represents a person who is running through the terminal to catch that particular flight.

    Just kidding, Charlie :-) I hope I didn’t make your head explode.

  • Laura Townsend Elion

    Tip #1: (One word)- UPS- Ship luggage ahead of you to the hotel…

    Tip #2: (Two words) – American Express (or generically, ‘credit card’) – Travel extremely light and buy what you need when you get there. Using this strategy, even as regards clothing, has allowed me to add many wearable souvenirs to my collection. This helps you avoid luggage hassles at least one way (both if you see Tip #1 for return travel).

  • Lyngengr

    @Joe:
    Although I hope we don’t go as far as “chipping” humans like dogs and cats, I do hope the airlines start using RFID tags to handle baggage. This wouldn’t solve the tight connection problem, which fliers should recognize doesn’t mean your luggage will make it if you book a 30 minute layover in ORD. But at least you will know where your bag is actually at! I have had luggage lost for 2 days and nobody at the airline seemed to know where it was at.

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  • Dawn

    After 38 states and 34 countries, the best tip I ever got was to put a copy of the itinerary with your final destination hotel or address and a contact phone number and a copy of your passport id page INSIDE your suitcase.

    I NEVER had a piece of luggage go missing. I did have it arrive late a couple of times due to a tight connections, but because all of my info was inside the bag, it made it to my hotel with plenty of time for me to get ready for my meetings.

    Sometimes the low tech solution is the best…

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  • Carrie Charney

    I have found that when there’s a tight connection, but I opt for a little more time between flights, my bag makes it onto the tight connection, then sits in the middle of baggage claim waiting for me (or some stranger) to pick it up.

  • Gordon

    Better Still buy a SuperSmartTag

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