It's one of those travel nightmares that can give you a sick feeling in your stomach. You wait for your suitcase at baggage claim and your luggage never comes around the carousel.
"A sinking feeling, a feeling of worry and dread, and, 'Oh my goodness, where can my luggage be?'" That's how Michelle Bogue explained the feeling eight months after she lost her suitcase on a business trip to New York.
On average, 5 million Americans will fly somewhere in the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's. It seems the perfect time for Ruth to the Rescue to review some lessons about lost luggage.
Michelle Bogue shared her story to warn other travelers. She is an account executive for a major cosmetics company and often travels for work. Her suitcase vanished in April after a flight from Detroit to New York.
"They assured me, 'Oh, your luggage has to be on that next flight.' Unfortunately, it was not," remembered Bogue. "I went through a business trip in New York with no luggage, and really no answers."
The rule you need to know
Sadly, Bogue's bag was never recovered. That's when she learned a painful lesson.
The U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to offer a maximum reimbursement of $3,300 per bag on domestic flights. If the belongings in your suitcase are worth more, you're out of luck as far as the airlines are concerned.
After her experience, Bogue said, "Do I pack differently today? Oh, you bet you! Has it affected a lot of people I've told my story to? Definitely!"
Travel consultant David Fishman of Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield said there are other ways to try to get reimbursed, but given limits at the airlines, he urges clients to never pack anything of extraordinary value in your checked bag. Instead, either carry it on your person or put in your carry-on bag.
Fishman offers other travel tricks that can minimize the financial impact of lost luggage, and the heartache:
- Make sure you have identification on your luggage.
- Also include your identification and itinerary INSIDE your bag. If someone finds it, they could use the information to return the bag.
- Make sure you can describe your luggage and everything inside.
- Use your cell phone to take photos of your luggage and all the important items inside.
- Buy travel insurance.
- During the holidays, think about shipping gifts.
- Pack "Half-and-Half:" Share suitcases with a travel companion so if just one bag makes it, you both still have some of your belongings.
- Keep records that can help you prove the worth of the items in your bag.
"If you had any receipts from stuff that you bought recently to go on a trip, that new bathing suit, the new outfit, save those receipts!" urged travel consultant David Fishman of the Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield.
Once you're at the airport, Fishman suggests doing everything you can to make sure your luggage gets on the right path to the right destination. He says you should watch to make sure the correct tags are attached to your bags, and you should even watch to make sure your bag gets on the conveyor belt.
If your bag gets lost...
Even if you change the way you pack and prepare, it will still be inconvenient to lose your luggage.
Here are some of the steps you'll need to take to attempt to recover your belongings:
1. Report the loss to the airline immediately. There will be forms to fill out. If you have a photo of your bag, share it with the airline.
2. Be sure to question the airline about all the rules, regulations, and requirements it has regarding lost luggage.
3. If you start buying replacement items, be sure to keep all the receipts. You will need them if you hope to get reimbursed.
4. Try to get customer service on your side. Ask for their help, and avoid yelling at the folks who are in a position to help you track your bags.
"If you really, are really, not getting anywhere and decide to yell, you probably won't get much further anyway," advises travel consultant David Fishman of Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield.
5. Follow up consistently with the airline, but not every five minutes
6. If your luggage is not found, you will need to submit the receipts, photos, and other documents to prove the value of what's inside the bags
7. It may take a few weeks to a few months to be reimbursed
8. If you suffered a big loss, you can look into making a claim on your homeowner's insurance.
While frequent traveler Michelle Bogue follows many of the pre-packing rituals now, she urges you to ask yourself one questions before you put anything inside your suitcase.
"If it's something that's a family heirloom, if it's something of significance to you, think about, can you live without it, or not?"