T+L’s Andrea Bennett explains how you can prevent your bags from winding up on a rainy tarmac—and what to do if it does happen.

© Matt Collins Prevent Lost Luggage
| Credit: © Matt Collins

If there were ever a theme to traveling with my peripatetic parents it might have been: "No checking bags." Historically, my methods of consolidating my belongings, such as stuffing vacuum bags, have been somewhat inelegant. But I’ll gladly take that over luggage being displaced for a flat of chicken eggs on the way to Dominica or spending a lonesome night on the runway at San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Last year, the lost-bag rate in the U.S. was especially high, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), having nearly doubled since September 11, 2001. In fact, more than 1 million pieces of luggage were lost, stolen, or misdirected between May and July, the highest rates in 10 years. Last September, 20 U.S. carriers received 265,350 complaints about mishandled bags (an improvement over August). In short, travelers had a chance of 5.45 in 1,000 of having their bags mishandled. Here, how to avoid a disaster.

1. Know When NOT to Check

The six domestic carriers with the poorest baggage-handling records in the DOT’s September report were regional airlines—Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which mishandled 10.54 bags per 1,000, had the worst record. It stands to reason, then, that it’s a bad idea to check bags when your itinerary includes a connecting flight.

2. Pack Identification Inside Your Luggage

If you have to check your bag, make sure to put your contact information (including your cell phone number) and an itinerary inside, in case your luggage tag comes off. Some airports are taking preventive measures: McCarran International, in Las Vegas, has tagged all outgoing luggage with radio-frequency readers. Also, don’t forget to remove old labels. And if you’re changing planes, avoid tight connections.

3. How to file a Claim

Last year, the DOT increased airlines’ liability to $3,000 per passenger on domestic flights, up from $2,800. But if you can’t prove your bags’ contents (or don’t have receipts), you’ll probably collect only a fraction of that amount. Be sure to declare the value of your luggage at check-in and skip buying extra insurance: most carriers offer it (typically $1–$2 per $100 in excess of $3,000). Extra coverage won’t expedite re­imburse-ment for lost items, and homeowner’s insurance often covers the loss anyway (although you may have to pay the deductible). If you’re flying internationally, airline liability per person is up to 1,000 "Special Drawing Rights," a fluctuating rate set by the International Monetary Fund. Remember, most airlines don’t consider a bag truly "lost" until seven days after your arrival, so don’t expect immediate action (claim deadlines vary by airline). Both domestic and international carriers, however, reimburse you for items purchased while you waited for your luggage. The amount varies by airline, but can be anywhere from $25 to $50 a day.

Bypass the airlines with one of these three luggage delivery companies. Some caveats: prices and shipping times vary widely, and you may need to plan (and pack) far in advance. Here, from best to worst value:


Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to L.A.: 2nd day: $126.08
Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to Paris: 2nd day: $322.39
How much notice required? Same day.
Insured for: Up to $100

T+L Tip: The best rate, but you won’t be reimbursed for lost luggage without proof of shipping


Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to L.A.: 2nd day: $110 plus $40 pick-up minimum
Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to Paris: 3 days: $240 plus $40 pick-up minimum (no two-day service)
How much notice required? 24 hours (six in New York City)
Insured for: $1,000 per bag

T+L Tip: Offers the most flexibility, but charges for fuel (up to 12.5 percent) and $75 for weekend delivery


Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to L.A.: 2nd day: $233.79
Cost to send 40 pounds from New York to Paris: 2nd day: $322.39
How much notice required? 72 hours
Insured for: $1,500 per bag domestic, $300 per bag international

T+L Tip: Not great for last-minute travelers, since you have to book at least 72 hours in advance for domestic shipping and seven days for international