Travel Tip Tuesday : How to Deal with Lost, Stolen or Damaged Luggage

A few weeks ago we talked about how to avoid luggage problems and also how to prevent it.  But what do you do when you find yourself with the lost, stolen or damaged luggage?  Travelers of yesteryear, before the age of nickle-and-diming every passenger for checking bags, were more likely to forgive the occasional broken strap or zipper.  But in modern-day airline hell, travelers are less much forgiving.  Many even feel paying to check a bag should mean better service.  Crazy, I know. Perhaps in a perfect world- but better treatment of bags is hardly a result.  Don’t think damaged bags are a problem?  Read through the comments on this recent New York Times article.  It’s shocking.

If you happen to be one of the growing population left with lost or damaged luggage or items stolen out of your luggage, I really feel for you.  The odds of recouping are certainly not in your favor.  Though I can’t guarantee a peaceful resolution, I can offer you a few pieces of advice.

1.  First, before you leave the house – make sure you lay everything out on your bed that you will pack and take dated photos.  Snap a few pics of your bag from different angles too.  These may come in handy later if you need to make an itemized list of a bags contents.

2.  Inspect your bags the minute you collect them from the luggage carousel.  Don’t wait until you get home- loss or damage will be much harder to prove.  Open your bag and check the inside as well.  Most airlines have a limit on the amount of time you have to file a claim.  The urge might be to run like hell out of the airport rather than wait in another blessed line-especially if you’ve been delayed for 99 hours, but resist the temptation to run and instead, report it.

3. Have all your documentation handy.  Be ready to give your passport, boarding pass, luggage claim checks and flight number(s) to the claim reps if asked.  And have your bag with you as well.

4.  Before you get your boxing gloves laced up and go all rabid-dog on the airline staff, I want you to remember the old saying  ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  It certainly applies here.  In most cases, you’ll already be heated.  Take a few deep breaths before speaking. Keep in mind that the agent you’re speaking with didn’t physically do anything to you or your bag.  Treat them with respect and you’ll (hopefully) get the same in return.

5.  Don’t take NO for an answer.  Be firm and polite-but persistent.  If the claims representative is unhelpful, ask to speak with the manager.  If he/she doesn’t resolve the problem to your liking, write a letter to the airline.  Be sure tell everyone at each level , how unhappy you are with their policies of forcing people to pay for checked bags and then not offering something in return when there is a problem.  Remind them that you are a good customer.  Explain that they will lose your business.

6.  When all else fails – take to the Internet.  You may remember that last year, a guy whose guitar turned up broken after his United flight, sought his revenge by writing and video taping a song blasting United Airlines.  It was cleverly titled ‘United Breaks Guitars‘.  It has over 7 1/2 million hits (and counting) on YouTube.  After a year of fighting to get resolution, his video shamed the airline into offering him money (which he requested be donated to charity), but not before the damage was done.  One has to wonder what the bad press really cost United in the end.  Personally, I love this idea.  Can’t hold a note to save your life? Look for other outlets.  Many major news networks air programs that help consumers – perhaps they’d be interested in your story.  And believe it or not, there are still good people out there who help advocate for travelers.  As luck would have it, I know a few. Chris Elliott or Travel Rants may have advice for you as well.

7.  Though it may not replace the cost of a $300 piece of luggage, if you paid your checked bag fee on-line with your credit card when booking your tickets, perhaps you could dispute those charges with your credit card company.

8.  And though it should only be considered in extreme cases or cases where you don’t agree with the resolution, you may decide to take the airline to Small Claims Court.  The DOT sets the maximum per-traveler reimbursement on domestic flights, which is currently $3300, so don’t expect a settlement to exceed it. Your claim should be fair and well-documented, which I why I recommend taking pictures earlier.  Save everything. Make notes of along the way.  List dates and times, whom you spoke with and when.  Correspond by email and letters instead of phone if possible, because it creates a paper trail.

Tired of dealing with lost or stolen luggage? Click here to see how I can help you convert to carry-on travel.

Cherrye’s sharing more travel tips over at My Bella Vita.

Photo Credit : Flickr

  • User Gravatar
    February 2nd, 2010

    what a great idea to snap photos
    of the bag + contents!

    love this idea ♥
    plan on doing this idea
    here is hoping i never need to follow through…

    What with only carry~on, dear Carry~On Queen,
    travelers like us have fewer worries for this problemo!
    .-= somepinkflowers´s last blog ..the nature of things =-.

  • User Gravatar
    February 2nd, 2010

    Excellent advice, Robin. I have never thought to photograph my luggage before a trip or open it in the airport after retrieving it from the baggage carousel to make sure everything is there. Of course, I’ve also been very lucky so far not to have major problems–aside from a snapped zipper tab. Does travel insurance cover damaged or lust luggage?
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Interview with a Solo Traveler, Part I: A Life Abroad =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Travel Insurance Lady
    February 2nd, 2010

    A basic travel insurance plan can be invaluable for tracking down lost, misdirected or delayed luggage; and it can provide reimbursement for stolen or damaged luggage and personal effects. Example: A traveler arrived in Barcelona to join a tour, but her luggage did not. She registered at the lost-luggage desk at the airport, was given a code number, and was told to check back with them daily. When she arrived at the tour’s hotel, she called her travel insurance company and gave them the particulars, plus the code from the airport. After 12 hours with no luggage, the travel insurance plan gave her $500 to spend on clothing and essentials to tide her over. Three days later, the lost luggage desk at the airport had no results, but the travel insurance company located the bag and delivered it to the hotel. This is just one of the many protections travel insurance provides. Personally, I wouldn’t travel without it!

  • User Gravatar
    AirTreks Nico
    February 2nd, 2010

    These are some great tips! But something so easy to preach but so hard to practice is staying calm when dealing with airline personelle. Seems as soon as you start your complaint they flip into aloof mode and all you get is there’s nothing they can do.

    Killing them with kindness a great tactic. But keeping your cool is probably the most important thing to remember. You’re more likely to be taken seriously than someone shouting at them. Another platitude to keep in mind is “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. In other words, don’t give up.

    Best of luck out there!

  • User Gravatar
    Robin @ My Melange
    February 2nd, 2010

    @Bonnie Yes, we carry-on queens rarely have these problems, thank goodness. I think the photo is a great idea as well ;)

    @Gray: I would say that depending on the company it would. I’d certainly shop around and purchase some that did cover luggage if I were checking a bag these days. Someone else suggested that homeowners policies may also cover luggage. Worth checking into.

  • User Gravatar
    Cherrye at My Bella Vita
    February 4th, 2010

    Remember my fiasco last summer with Lufthansa? After six months of waiting and being told no, I, too, took it to the Internet. A few days later they emailed me and said they’d reopen the case. A month later, they paid out!

    Nice tips.
    .-= Cherrye at My Bella Vita´s last blog ..Travel Tip Tuesday: Italy Expat Travel Writing =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Blog on travel
    February 13th, 2010

    Nice article! BTW Here is a nice proof that you have to be VERY lucky not to get your luggages lost! : http://www.blogontravel.com/ex.....e-airport/ ;)
    .-= Blog on travel´s last blog ..10 things that annoy me when booking holidays online =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Tessa Bjerke
    December 11th, 2010

    Thanks for the information and facts!

  • User Gravatar
    Stanford Harle
    August 6th, 2011

    I was just seeking this info for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your website. I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this type of informative web sites in top of the list. Generally the top websites are full of garbage.

    Well, I’m glad you found me.

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