Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oh where, oh where can my luggage be?

Losing your luggage is every traveller's nightmare. Unfortunately on this trip not only did I wind up in hospital, but my luggage also went astray...

I'd just arrived at the airport in Nairobi, and was waiting patiently at the carousel for my luggage when I suddenly realised more than an hour had past and everyone on my flight (including Dan) had already collected their bags and long departed. When the carousel finally came to a grinding halt, my heart sank as I realised my bag had not made the journey with me. What was I going to do? I was stuck in a foreign country without even a change of underwear!

No traveller wants to deal with the hassle of lost luggage. Unfortunately, however, misplaced or lost luggage is as inevitable as flight delays and cancellations. So here are my best tips on how to ease the pain.

Look around
Before you panic, take a look around. Luggage can often be placed on the wrong carousel by mistake, so search the other carousels for your bag. Also, look out for bags that resemble yours and are left on their own; another traveller could have accidently taken the wrong one.

Report lost luggage immediately
If your luggage cannot be found, report it immediately, and do not leave the airport without completing the appropriate paperwork. Also, make sure you get a copy of your lost luggage claim form and a contact name and number so that you can monitor the progress of your claim.

Find out what the airline can do for you
This wasn't something I was aware of at the time, but most airlines will provide you with petty cash to cover basic necessities, such as toiletries, if your luggage is lost or delayed, while others will reimburse you for essential purchases. If I had known this, perhaps I might have at least been able to recoup the cost of the expensive new underwear I purchased (I was still thinking in Tanzanian shillings, so accidentally paid $US25 for a pair of undies!). So make sure enquire about the airline's policy.

File a claim
In most cases, as with mine, your luggage will usually turn up within a day or two. If it is lost, however, inform your travel insurance company straight away and supply them with a list of items that were in your bag. Also, ensure you list the value of the suitcase itself and include any out-of-pocket expenses you may have incurred to replace any items (keep all receipts).

The only fool-proof way to prevent lost luggage is to only take a carry-on. This, of course, is not always possible. So here are some tips on how to make sure you luggage arrives with you:

Pack important items in your carry-on
Take as much on-board with you as you can. Make sure you pack a change of clothing and carry important items such as keys, money, essential medication, glasses and toiletries (keeping in mind restrictions on gels, liquids and aerosols) with you. Not packing a change of clothing and underwear was of course the big mistake I made. As it was only a short one-hour flight, I didn’t see the need – Never Again!

Label luggage clearly
Ensure that every piece of your luggage is labelled both inside and out with your name, home address and contact details as well as your destination address and phone number. This way if your luggage does go missing, at least the airline will know where it is meant to be.

List your contents
Before you take off on your holiday, make a list of everything you pack in your bag. Also keep a note of the make, model and colour of your suitcase. If your bag does go missing, this will help when making your claim.

Check-in on time
The most common cause for lost luggage is a late check-in. Try to arrive at the airport a few hours before your flight departs to avoid any problems. Of course this still won’t guarantee that your luggage won’t go astray. I was the third person to check in for our 6.00am flight and my bag still managed to get lost. What’s more, it was the only flight leaving Dar es Salaam at that time of day, so God only knows how it missed the flight!

Double-check the destination
It is not uncommon for staff to make a tagging error. On my way back from Cuba I almost had my bags checked through to Montego Bay in Jamaica instead of Kingston. Luckily I noticed and had the tag changed immediately. So double-check the tag the airline puts on your bag to make certain it is checked through to the right destination.

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