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

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