What not to pack in checked luggage when flying

by Karen Fawcett on October 4, 2010

Is checked luggage safe? How many precautions can you take? Security belts? TSA-approved locks? Is there an answer? Well, perhaps not and people need to be prepared. Period the end. The longer suitcases are sitting, the more chance there is for things to go awry.

Case in point …

Sixteen luggage handlers at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport have been convicted of stealing €450,000 ($616,000) of worth of goods from more than 500 passengers’ suitcases during 2007 and 2008.

Not only will these men, who worked for Air France’s company Trac-Piste, pay fines ranging between €1,000 ($1,370) and €3,000 ($4,110), prosecutors want them to be sentenced to serve six-months-to-a-year in jail.

Air France lawyers are lobbying for substantially heavier fines of €117,500; plus €300,000 for the damage to the airline’s image and €200,000 for lost business.

These thieves were focused. They targeted flights they considered the richest ones heading to Switzerland and northern Italy. Liberating laptops, iPhones and iPods, video cameras, jewelry, perfume, cash and travelers checks were their M.O. They also stole more than one hundred pairs of designer shoes.

If this can happen in France, it can happen anywhere — and undoubtedly does. So, how and what should place in your checked bags?

There’s a general consensus about what travelers should definitely not check:

Electronic equipment:

- computers
- phones
- cameras
- I-pads

Valuable items:
- jewelry
- silver

Essential documents:
- travel papers including confirmation slips
- prescriptions and medications
- insurance papers
- passports
- sensitive work-related materials
……….and the list goes on.

Between being charged for checking luggage and the fear of having suitcases opened and inspected (mine always are), an increasing number of people are opting to travel exclusively with carry-on luggage. Air travelers are dubious of TSA inspectors and know items that are essentially of little value to them, are very appealing to baggage handlers who make minimum wage.

But this presents another problem. If travelers are going on an extended trip, there’s little to no way they can cram everything into a suitcase that fits in an overhead bin.

Passengers claim to be checking suitcases containing clothes since they can be replaced. This makes me wonder what they do if they show up for a conference and their clothes don’t. Oh well, perhaps this is a case of less is more, depending on the group.

How would you transport items you don’t want to check? Shipping can be an acceptable solution. Be certain you have an inventory, use a service that tracks the package and require a signature when the shipment arrives.

Items that would be on my personal “too precious to check” list would be:

- a wedding dress and all of the accessories
- photo albums, etc. of any and all sentimental value
- CDs of events
- fur coats if you’re ending up in a cold climate and don’t want them going from one airport to another
- documents (that should be scanned if they’re that important); but you’ll need hard copies at your destination
- gift-wrapped presents that tend to disappear
- clothes that can’t be replaced.
- your children’s most precious toys that will cause your offspring to have meltdowns were they to evaporate.

Many people have never had anything stolen. One friend reported her daughter opened her suitcase at a hotel to find three pairs of men’s pants had been ADDED to her luggage. Go figure.

Please add to the list of items you wouldn’t check. If you’ve had things stolen, what were they and did you have success in retrieving them? Plus, how many papers and claim forms were you required to fill out? There must be some interesting stories in the air. Hope they are some of these stories with happy endings.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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  • Mike C

    My daughter on a return from a cruise in Miami to Newark, was missing a carton of cigarettes she bought on the cruise. They were however, kind enough to replace them with 5 cigars.

  • dcta

    I do not understand why anyone would pack anything of value other than clothing and perhaps hair products in their checked bags? I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. I travel pretty often and valuable go in my purse – camera, jewelery, Passport and other travel documents, money, etc. My bag has been opened exactly once (that I know of) and the letter explaining why was in there. I simply don’t understand why anyone would check something they can not afford to lose.

  • ton

    i sometimes watch these airfield reality shows (we get a southwest version followed by a easyjet one) and the times that people start yelling because there car and home keys are in their suitcases. Come on who does that, you need to be a moron to put those in a suitcase that can be opened and or lost

  • http://viral-affairs.blogspot.com vos

    Put a GPS device in the luggage. So people know where its hiding.

  • Leigh

    We having been traveling to Europe for 6 weeks+ with only carry-on luggage – no fees, no lost luggage and nothing stolen. We wear clothes that can be washed/dried easily. I wear the Scottevest jacket/vest which has numerous pockets to store electronics, valuables and stuff for the plane trip. Since it is not a bag it does not count as a carry-on. This reduced the size of the second carry-on to a small bag placed under the seat. Having the luggage with you gives you maximum flexibility for unforeseen itinerary changes. Stop checking bags – it can be done!

  • Sandy

    Ah, Leigh, if only everyone had reached the point where they no longer needed to buy souvenirs for those back home, or could resist purchasing a fantastic bargain! Fortunately I put the expensive watches I bought in my carry on, as their empty boxes were stolen out of my luggage.

  • Elisa

    I used to travel to London just to get CDs, books and other items which were unavailable in Italy (which could also include souvenirs, for ex., before Muji came to Italy, I did bought lots of Christmas presents there), and I sent them home via mail. I used insured mail, which could be tracked and once I even used UPS because I had some book which was of some value and didn’t want either to put it in my baggage or to pass it though mail. It only works when coming back of course, but it allowed me to bring back lots of stuff!

  • Lucy

    My problem is that even when I travel with my smallest suitcase, an 18″ model, I lose it at the boarding gate. The bag gets sent below, and I nearly always have to pick it up at baggage claim. I tend to travel on free tickets with my frequent flyer miles. I think this gives me less desireable seats to begin with. By the time my boarding zone is called, the overhead bins are full. I’ve been told my bag will not fit under the seat. I have an 18″ TravelPro that should fit under all seats. I really don’t know what I do wrong, if it’s my general body language or what, but my bag is just about always taken from me. Just to add, I’m a 54 year old 110 lb worman. I don’t think I’m threatening to look at!

    I gave up trying to carry anything on board except my purse. I bought an inexpensive ($239) used laptop on eBay just for travel. I put that in my suitcase and carry the information on flash drives in my purse. It’s the best solution I came up with, but it isn’t perfect. If the computer is stolen I’ll still lose information that will be hard to replace, but not impossible.

  • http://AOL Dorothy

    My husband had a CD stolen from his checked luggage. It was signed by a former “Miss Minnesota” and her vocals were on the CD. He eventually was able to get another CD.
    I had a pair of sunglasses stolen from my suitcase while returning from Mexico. They were prescription ones. I put them in the suitcase while waiting to check in.

  • Paula

    Our rule.. we never travel with anything we can’t replace. His favorite golf shirts from a memorable vacation, stays in the closet or he wears it on the plane. If we love it we leave it home. That includes my jewelry. On a recent trip to Florida my underwear was stolen. When I put in the claim, the airline went crazy. The claim agent freaked when he saw what I spent on underwear and had to reimburse me when I produced the receipt. I explained to him that I packed my underwear, it was a colleague of his who stole it! Now, I don’t even bother to lock my suitcase because it always gets opened. All important items, kindle, phone,ipod, laptop, travel documents and meds are in my backpack. As I purchase new clothing, I scan the receipt and keep it in my email file. In pinch, I can furnish the airline, by clothing category, with a receipt and get reimbursed. It’s about time technology works in our favor.

  • FL Traveler

    Make up! I use Clinque exclusively and although I wouldn;t consider it “expensive,” it is certainly more $$ than drug store brands. I was shocked when it turned up missing. Luckily it was on the trip home so I didn’t have to hunt it down in an unfamiliar town. I would love to put it in my carry on but some of it does not meet the new 3 oz liquids rule.

  • KC

    I had a camera stolen. I know I shouldn’t have checked it, but it was a really old camera and I had the newer one in my carry on. The funny thing is that they didn’t take the underwater housing for it that was worth more than the camera. Of all the dive equipment I’ve checked all over the world, I suppose having only a cheap digital point and shoot stolen is lucky for me.

  • Helen

    We just got back from a famil;y trip to the Bahamas. When my daughter got there she went to hang up her new dress she bought for my mothers 80th birthday celebration. It was gone (it had been in her checked luggage). I didn’t believe she packed it and when she got home she verified it was not there. After reading this I understand the issue. Shame on US Airways for charging $ 25 to check the bag and not even keep it safe. PS. the service on US Air stinks-I’ll think twice before I travel with them again!

  • http://noaddedsalt.blogspot.com Elisa

    Travelling without checked bags is certainly doable. Our family of 4 did it for 3 weeks in the UK. We took 2 full outfits each plus spare shirts and underwear, cameras, and a laptop. We intentionally booked accommodation where we could wash and dry our clothing. Wear your heavy jackets onto the plane, and choose everything you take by thinking about the space it will take up in your carry-on. This way you won’t arrive in another country to discover your clothes have disappeared in the lost suitcase.

    We bought more clothes (and souvenirs) at our destination. To get it all home we spent three dollars on an oversized cheap plastic zip-up bag from a dollar store. In this we put our clothes – nothing too expensive – all the valuables went into the carry-on bags. And even if it had been lost, we we were coming home, so we wouldn’t be stranded without clothing to wear!

  • J Moon

    We were in essence forced by Air France to place our Apple lap top in our bag December 18 for a flight to Pairs. Our luggage was lost and finally returned to us January 8. Naturally, not only was the computer gone that they made us put in the bag, but also missing were a brand new pair of men’s hiking boots and several pairs of Ralph Lauren pants and a bag on my wife’s makeup. It’s sad that we live in a world that would rob someone blind. You would think the airlines would install cameras to watch their employees to make sure they don’t steal from its paying customers.

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