We’d had a good run. In several decades of both personal and group international travel, after many airport transfers, some cancelled or delayed flights, complicated airport changes and visits to remote regional airports, we’d never lost a single piece of luggage. That is…..until 11 days ago!
As our Mount Elbrus group assembled at the small regional airport in Russia and prepared for the transfer to our valley hotel, the news came through that two team members who had arrived earlier were missing their bags. Their carefully packed duffles, full of the essential kit for a high altitude expedition, were lost somewhere in transit. They were gutted and so was I. Knowing the in country options, I was confident we could find enough replacement kit to ensure their Elbrus adventure could still go ahead, but I also knew how frustrating and disappointing the situation would be for them after the detailed prep they had put into their gear choices.
We got by and both of them summited, but as we left for home there was still no sign of their bags and they faced the ongoing hassle of making an insurance claim and replacing lost items. The situation led to a lot of discussion about how to avoid similar things happening in the future and the team had lots of good suggestions. I thought it worth sharing 15 ideas for avoiding the lost luggage nightmare……
1. Minimise transfers
It can be hard sometimes, but avoiding transfers (or at least minimising them) will increase your chances of your bags arriving on the carousel. It may even be worth paying a bit more for your flight to minimise transfers (which will likely make for a more pleasant journey anyway). For example, you can fly to Delhi direct from London or you can fly from London to Dubai and then on to Delhi. Clearly, the more transfers, the more the risk.
2. Choose your airline carefully
We all have great access to online reviews nowadays, so it is always worth looking at what previous travellers say about your chosen airline. What do they say about efficiency, about the staff, about their record of dealing with lost luggage? Again, it may be worth paying a bit more for an airline that has a solid proven record.
3. Consider booking through a booking agent
Earlier this year we had 2 clients who had flights redirected due to poor weather enroute to Nepal and then, while away, the airline they had booked with went bust! It was a potential logistical nightmare to sort out, but they had both booked with Dial-a-flight and had a personal booking agent who sorted everything out for them. They had a bit of disruption while away, but nothing compared to what they might have faced. In the end they could still continue with the trip and Dialaflight Amy ensured they could get home. It may have cost a little more (although the flight was actually very competitive), but it was certainly money well spent in that situation.
4. Be generous with transfer time
If you do need to transfer enroute, ensure there is enough time for your bags to get from one place to the other. If you are rushing to the next gate, it stands to reason that your bags will be even more pushed to get from one aircraft to another.
5. Make your bag identifiable
There are lots of considerations here. Make your bag easy to identify and it will hopefully make it easier to track down. A bright yellow duffle with your name emblazoned in Sharpie or a piece of brightly coloured ribbon tied to it has to be easier to spot than an unmarked black bag that looks exactly like all the other black bags.
6. Photograph your bag
On our recent experience in Russia the team members were asked to describe what their bags looked like and it has to be easier for the person looking in the recesses of that distant airport if they have photos to help them spot yours apart from the many others.
7. Ensure your insurance is up to the job
Insurance can seem expensive, but it will feel like a real bargain when you come to claim for lost items. Don’t scrimp, and read the small print to ensure it is comprehensive enough to actually cover the value of your equipment.
8. Photograph the bag contents and keep a list of what is in your bag
Those classic grid photos, where people lay out the contents of their bag and photographs them from above, could actually be really useful if you have to describe what is in there or, if the worst comes to the worst, make an insurance claim. It sounds extreme, but every bit of evidence could count. Maybe even better if the photo has a date stamp from your camera or you have something identifying the date it was taken (have the front cover from your daily newspaper in the photo?!). That will at least help prove that it isn’t an old photo.
9. Keep purchase receipts and equipment photos
Insurance companies will want evidence that you have lost what you say you’ve lost. For mountaineering equipment, this is likely to include some expensive single items. Try and get in the habit of keeping receipts for things you buy and, even better, a photo of the item alongside your receipt. If you make it easier for the insurance worker that has to process your claim and, of course, maybe a happy claims assessor is a generous assessor?
10. Ensure your bag can get back to you
If your bag does get found, make sure it can be returned. What if the baggage tag has been ripped off or damaged and can’t be read? For years we’ve used a system called iTRAK and, although we’ve never had to test if it works, there are plenty of testimonials on their website suggesting it does. iTRAK is a subscription service where you log your personal details into their database, buy some luggage tags (and they sell stickers for personal items like electronics or passports) and fasten them to your bags or other items. Each tag has the iTRAK contact details on and a corresponding unique code number. So, if someone contacts iTRAK and gives them the code, they know who the bag belongs to. It seems a great idea, doesn’t cost much to subscribe and we can testify that the tags stand up to plenty of baggage handler rough and tumble. It also means you don’t have personal information visible on your bags. Full details on iTRAK are available via their website here.
Some online research reveals there’s lots of other products along the same lines nowadays. Baggage tags with smart codes or even trackers that give a location. There is really no shortage of options. We have just received a GEGO tracker to test and will feed back on its effectiveness in due course. You can find out more about GEGO here.
11. Keep contact details inside your bag
A printed sheet with full contact details and a copy of your itinerary placed right on top of your bag contents means that, if your bag does get opened to search for owner details by an airport employee, the info they need to contact you is literally staring them in the face. Some people we know also write contact details inside their duffle bag lid.
12. Think about what happens to your trip of a lifetime if your bag does go astray
Some things are always going to be easy to replace in country and others may be impossible. What if your high altitude boots go missing or your are stuck at the base of your mountain without a hard shell jacket? It may be worth carrying some must haves in hand luggage or even wearing items like your boots on the flight. It may also be worth carrying a change of clothes and essential personal items in your hand baggage. This is certainly the case for other hard to replace items like prescription medicines, contact lenses, glasses or documents.
Another idea, if you are travelling with someone else, is to cross pack. That simply means having half of your stuff in your partner’s bag and vice a versa. So, if one bag goes missing at least you each have half your kit.
13. Understand the system
Airlines use handling services and, if you do face the nightmare of staring at that empty luggage carousel in the early hours of the morning after 3 long flights and realising your bag really won’t be arriving, understand what the procedure is for registering your loss. In the case of our team mates the airport lost luggage staff spoke virtually no English and the process was complicated but, as they are seasoned travellers, they at least knew that evidence would be needed and ensured a claim form was obtained and other documents photographed before exiting the airport. It is also worth reading up on the process for claiming against an airline if your bags never get back to you.
14. Claim your baggage quickly
Of course, there is the chance that your bag goes missing because someone has pinched it off the carousel before you arrived. This is less likely if your bag looks very individual and in some airports your baggage tag details will even be checked or your bags rescanned before you are allowed to leave the arrivals hall. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. We tend to head straight to the baggage collection and position ourselves in view of the start of the baggage conveyor. That way, at least we know we will see our bags straight away.
15. Communicate with the check in staff
Quiz them on whether your bag is checked right through to your destination or not. Also, get a look at the baggage tag to be sure it is labelled to the correct destination. The staff are usually efficient, but mistakes can still happen.
So, we hope that helps. Many steps are simple to implement and anything you can do to keep your trip on track and avoid the empty carousel of doom has to be worth it. Your personal possessions are always important to you and might be the difference between a successful trip and great disappointment. Remember, above all, that luck favours the well prepared!
We’d love to add any of your personal recommendations to this post. Please do contact us via our Contact Form here if you have an idea to share.
Posted by Paul