The Truth about Lost Luggage

The truth is lost luggage still weighs you down.

Within the past month, I returned from two trips empty handed; my belongings temporarily displaced. That's not surprising; industry reports claim the airlines mishandled (aka lost) approximately 30 millions bags in 2005.

In 2006, statistics rose to 6.3 lost, damaged, delayed or stolen bags per 1,000 passengers. Just released figures for June 2007 escalated to 7.9 per 1,000.

And that's where the wait-y process begins.

A missing luggage report must be filed, which necessitates standing in line behind other disgruntled flyers. I selected an identifying picture — duffle or suitcase, soft-sided or hard, wheels or handle; filled in the baggage claim and flight numbers, and received a copy, signed by the airlines representative.

Then I went home to wait. I grew frustrated calling the hotline, only to listen to a menu of pre-recorded babble. I searched the website to see if my items had surfaced, but this created more anxiety.

I began listing the contents in my valise; then added up the value with dismay. Airlines require receipts to prove ownership, with a maximum liability of $2,800 per passenger. The limit for international carriers is actually less. And a bag must be missing for 90 days to be declared officially lost, prior to payment.

If your belongings disappear when first starting a trip, the situation becomes far more burdensome. Last year, my daughter and I spent several nights, sleeping in our underwear, and wasted precious vacation time, seeking suitable clothing. By day five we splurged on essentials. Naturally, our bags then miraculously appeared, freeing the airline from reimbursement.

Well, then again, they eventually paid for some items, after I sent numerous letters with dated proof-of-purchase.

And what happens if your stuff permanently disappears? Seems strange but, the lot goes to Alabama. Almost all passenger planes and cargo handlers deal exclusively with Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama. This company opens the cases and sells whatever treasures lurk inside. I hear the store offers amazing bargains. Check it out:

My last travel saga involved an unexpected midnight telephone call. A cheerful employee awaken me, saying my bags were forthcoming. I needed to provide directions to my home, and post a note on my front door, saying it was okay to leave the suitcases. Otherwise, I was required to personally sign for delivery, around 4:30 or 5 AM, the expected arrival time.

When I lugged the weighty satchels inside, I felt dampness. In fact, some of my clothes were as wet as a towel that's just gone through the wash. Apparently my suitcases sat outside, in the thunderous rain that delayed my flight, two days earlier.

Yes, lost luggage is a heavy load and this time, mine returned even heavier.

For more tips, read “Luggage Handling Tips for Flyers.”