Baggage loss is summer travel’s latest nightmare

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When travel experts offer tips for avoiding disasters this summer, one thing is ubiquitous: carry-on luggage is the only way to go.

“I would never, ever check a bag,” said travel agency executive Marc Casto, president of leisure brands in the Americas for Flight Center Travel Group, in an interview last month. “We spent two years living in shorts and flip flops. We really don’t need so many things to take with us to a different destination.

Sometimes it’s true. But other times, it’s impossible to commit to getting on with life. Suppose the overhead compartments of your flight are full and you are required to check your baggage at the gate. Or you’ve booked a lower fare that – oops – only allows checked baggage. Or you are traveling with a pet, which counts as your hand luggage.

“There are times when you just vacuum and check a bag,” said William McGee, an aviation expert and consumer advocate who just checked bags for the first time in seven years. “Unfortunately, this summer is not the right time for that.”

Welcome to summer travel. It’s hell.

McGee, senior aviation and travel researcher at the American Economic Liberties Project, only suffered delays and damage to his luggage on parts of his trip to Greece and the UK – which he considered like a victory.

As hordes of passengers face a shortage of workers, baggage has been a casualty all over the world. Department for Transport data through April shows airlines mishandled baggage at a much higher rate than in April 2021, when far fewer people were travelling, but at a lower rate than in March 2022 or April 2019. In April, airlines mishandled — or lost, damaged, delayed or stolen — nearly 220,000 of the 40 million bags they handled, according to a department report.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the company has encountered baggage issues with flights in Europe more than the United States. He said that after struggling in May and June, the company was ahead of its luggage performance target for July.

“We’ve gone as far as recently we had a separate charter just to repatriate baggage to customers who had been stranded due to some of the operational issues European airports had,” he said. “We did this on our own nickel just to get our Delta customers together with their bags as quickly as possible.” Icelandair has taken a similar step by sending staff to Amsterdam, which has been plagued by staffing problems this summer, to unload baggage.

The airline has lost your baggage. Now what?

Social media is full of stories of pathos, rage, defeat and the occasional victory. Pop duo Aly & AJ have tweeted twice about bag issues – once during a June trip to Milan and once this month, flying from Montreal to Los Angeles. Several golfers asked for help with missing clubs. Photos have circulated of luggage stacked up at London’s Heathrow Airport. The Irish Independent reported that a woman who traveled to Ireland from Chicago to scatter her parents’ ashes was devastated when the bag containing the remains was lost and then returned to Chicago. She had flown with her cat, which was considered carry-on baggage, according to the newspaper.

A family member’s lost luggage from Miami to Baltimore meant Alex Howard, 31, of DC didn’t have photos of his grandparents at his July 3 wedding. Her aunt and uncle, who traveled from Nicaragua, were unable to pursue their bags with wedding clothes and family photos; their flight was delayed on July 2 and the bags were delivered two days after the wedding.

Both were able to find last minute clothes – which is important, since Howard’s aunt and father walked him down the aisle.

Summer trips are chaotic. Here are 8 things to know.

Sometimes a bag is a total loss even though it is not technically lost. Emilie Hofferber, a landscape photographer, flew Delta with her 13-year-old Chihuahua mix, Margaret, from Florida to Utah earlier this month and had to check in two bags. She had heard of nightmares of lost bags and bought an Apple AirTag tracker to put in one of the bags. This one turned out well, but she ended up discovering the other in an airline office as if it had been “put through a wood chipper,” she said.

“Even what wasn’t completely torn to shreds – it ended up being damaged beyond repair,” she said. After Hofferber, 26, tweeted pictures of the bag and ended up on Inside Edition, the airline became extremely responsive, she said; on Tuesday, he had agreed to a reimbursement amount of approximately $3,670.

“Delta sincerely apologizes to this customer for the damage to her baggage and contents,” the carrier said in a statement. “Delta teams have been in contact with the customer to offer compensation for this rare occurrence.”

Experts — and some travelers — offer these tips to not lose luggage in the first place or to make the lost luggage experience easier.

Try Baggage Shipping Services

Sometimes the solution can be to avoid airport baggage altogether, said Casto of Flight Centre. Companies such as ShipGo, LugLess and Luggage Forward specialize in luggage delivery alternatives.

“If you have to bring a wedding dress, ship it ahead,” he said.

Make sure you’ve tagged your bags correctly and can identify them if they get lost, McGee said. Also take pictures of everything checked and keep your complaint ticket.

“That little strip that the airlines put out there – it’s not the equivalent of an ID tag with your personal information on it,” he said.

McGee said he arrived at airports three hours early to maximize the chances of his bag getting on the plane.

“If you’re going to check in at the very last minute, if you’re one of those people who needs to be escorted through security because you’ve just arrived late – … the likelihood of your bag not arriving not … [is] higher than if you had checked in two hours earlier,” he said.

Don’t tick anything crucial

Lindsey Renken, co-founder and chief executive of travel app Airheart, told the Washington Post earlier this year that valuables and essentials like medication should always be carried in carry-on luggage, not luggage. checked in. Even if someone is not allowed carry-on baggage or is required to check at the gate, these important pieces should be placed in a small bag that can fit under the seat.

Social media users recommend trackers such as Apple AirTags so passengers can track the progress of their baggage, even if airlines have no idea.

Report any issues immediately

Don’t leave the airport without reporting a missing or damaged bag, McGee said, even if the line is long.

“You can’t come back the next day and say, ‘Oh, by the way, you damaged my bag yesterday,'” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, no, maybe it was the taxi driver or the hotel.'”

Lauren LaBar, head of travel and experience at travel concierge app Upaway, told The Post this winter that passengers should get a copy of the report and a follow-up contact for customer service. Travelers must also provide their preferred delivery address.

Understand what is owed to you

The Department of Transportation says airlines are liable for up to $3,800 for lost, damaged or delayed baggage. The maximum liability for international flights is approximately $1,780.

McGee said travelers should also consult their airlines’ contract of carriage and check compensation rules in Canada or Europe if flying to those destinations.

“I don’t care about distance; just drive,” said Hofferber, who also faced delays that caused him to miss a connecting flight this summer. “Until they figure out how to staff their airlines and treat their employees, it’s going to be an absolute nightmare at the airport.”

She added: “It’s just not worth the headache.”

Natalie B. Compton contributed to this report.

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