The Land of the Lost Luggage – Where Misplaced Bags Go to Die

Okay, a show of hands. How many of you have lost your luggage on a plane trip? Usually lost luggage finds its way back to its owner, eventually. Assuming you are in one location for a while and the airline has routed your bag to approximately the right neighborhood, the chances are that the airline will eventually reunite you with your lost luggage. However, unless you take some basic precautions when you check your bag, that suitcase may end up in the land of lost luggage.

lostDid you ever wonder where lost luggage goes to die? Apparently it’s a strip mall near the freeway. The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, becomes the collection point for all baggage that the airlines can’t match to their owners. There are more than 700 million suitcases checked as luggage every year in the United States, and approximately 2 million of them get lost in transit. Of those, about 68,000 bags are never delivered to their owners, and after 90 days they are sold to the Unclaimed Baggage Center. It’s a great place for bargain hunters looking for everything from suitcases to used golf clubs to electronics such as digital cameras and iPods.

I used to consider my own baggage handling strategies to minimize the possibilities of loss. I used to think the last bag on the conveyer belt was the first one off, but you can’t predict that. Some aircraft are loaded by hand and others have pods filled with luggage. You don’t know. Some carriers, such as Delta, use an RFID or other type of system to verify that your baggage is on your plane before you even take off; we can only hope other airlines follow suit.

Travel Insurance from TripInsurance.com will cover your baggage for loss or damage, beyond what the airline will offer you. International baggage claim limitations are far lower than you might think. They are limited to roughly $25 a kilo. For a 50 pound bag, that would be about $570. That will barely pay for the suitcase, let alone your clothes. Most of the policies on our site offer $1000 to $2500 in baggage coverage, and many offer $100-$250 a day, with a cap at $500 for baggage delays of longer than 12 hours so you can buy essentials like toiletries and underwear.

Making sure that your suitcase isn’t bound for the baggage boneyard is a matter of taking a few simple precautions:

1. Make sure your baggage is tagged correctly. Many people are checking in at the same time, and the agent pulls tags from a common printer. Watch them put the tag on your bag when they check your luggage and make sure you are headed for the same destination, e.g. SFO or OAK.

2. Be sure your name is on your bag. It’s amazing how few people put name tags on their luggage. Be sure the information is current and attached with a strong strap; something that won’t easily tear loose.

3. Put a copy of your flight itinerary inside your suitcase with your cell phone number and where you will be staying. If the tag is lost in transit, at least there will be some means of tracking you down.

4. When in doubt, carry it with you. If there is something you can’t do without, such as medication or the presentation for tomorrow’s meeting, put it in your carry-on. If you really want to avoid problems, travel light and carry everything on the plane.

5. Prepare your carry-on as if you are going to check it. This may seem counterintuitive, but given the overcrowding on most airlines these days, you never know if there will be room in the overhead.

6. Make your bag standout. One reason luggage gets lost is all bags look very similar, and someone may take your bag by mistake. Buy luggage in bright patterns or colors, or tie something distinctive to the handle so it stands out on the baggage claim carrier.

7. If you do lose your bag, don’t wait but file a report with the airline before you leave the airport. If you are on a cruise or in transit to another destination, be sure to leave your itinerary so the airline can forward your luggage.

If you take a few routine precautions, the chances are that even if your baggage is lost, it will be found and returned. Otherwise, it may end up on a one-way trip to the suitcase burial ground.

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