Taking extra precautions in terms of baggage handling and baggage problems can make a difference when traveling. Know your rights and travel smarter.
Between the time passengers check in their luggage and the time they claim it at their destination, it may have passed through a maze of conveyor belts, baggage carts, and forklifts; when airborne, it may have tumbled around the cargo compartment in rough air. In all fairness to the airlines, however, relatively few bags are damaged or lost. With some common sense packing and other precautions, checked baggage will probably arrive safely and baggage problems can be avoided.
Pack to avoid baggage problems. Some items should never be put into checked bags in the cargo system—money, jewelry, cameras, medicine, liquids, glass, negotiable securities, or any other things that are valuable, irreplaceable, delicate, or of sentimental value. These and anything else absolutely needed for a trip should be packed in a carry-on bag that will fit under the seat. Remember, the only way to be sure valuables are not damaged or lost is to keep them with you.
Some seasoned travelers recommend carrying enough clothing and personal items with them in carry-on luggage to last 48 hours.
Baggage check-in time limits
This is a little-known rule, but it can be very important. All airlines have baggage check-in time limits which specify how long before a flight bags must be checked in order for the airline to be responsible for timely delivery of that baggage to its destination. This also helps to avoid baggage problems.
Baggage limits and excess luggage charges
On domestic flights you are normally limited to a total of three pieces of luggage (this includes checked and carry-on bags). Again, this varies by airline.
The bags checked should be labeled—inside and out—with your name, address and phone number. Add the name and address of a person to contact at your destination if it’s practical. Almost all bags misplaced by airlines do turn up sooner or later. With proper labeling, the baggage problem and the bag and its owner can usually be reunited within a few hours.
Some airlines provide boxes for bulky items and garment bags. These boxes help bags arrive intact and are often free for the asking, but may also be available for a nominal fee.
Lock bags to help prevent pilferage. (If TSA decides to check baggage, these locks that are not able to be opened with a TSA skeleton key will be cut off.) Remove any shoulder straps and stow them inside to prevent your bags from getting hung up in the baggage-handling machinery, creating a baggage problem. But if bags do arrive with broken locks or torn sides, check inside immediately. If something is missing, report it to the airline right away. Plus, airlines are responsible for the damage to the exterior of baggage.
If planning to check any electrical equipment, small appliances, pottery, glassware, musical instruments or other fragile items, they should be packed in a container specifically designed to survive rough handling—preferably a factory-sealed carton or a padded hard-shell carrying case.
At check-in, the airline will put baggage destination tags on checked luggage and provide the stubs to use as claim checks. Each tag has a three-letter airport code and flight number that show the baggage sorters to what airport and on which flight the checked luggage should go. Double-check the tag and flight number before checked bags go down the conveyor belt. (The airline will be glad to provide the code for any destination when buying tickets, or at the check-in counter.)