Baggage blues

2 Feb 2009

The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) reports that from 2005 to 2008, passengers lost an estimated US$31 million worth of luggage, with almost 42,000 travellers reporting missing bags.

Last December 26, baggage handlers at the Hongkong International Airport staged a three-hour strike over bonus cuts on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year for the city, leaving thousands of travellers without luggage, including Stanley Hui, the airport authority’s chief executive.

Moral of these stories? The no brainer advice: be prepared. You never know when your belongings may go astray so remembering some of these time-tested tips can go a long way in alleviating the stress.

Be vigilant at check in.

Make sure the staff who checks in your baggage attaches the correct destination ticket to every bag, and get a claim ticket for each.

Always hand carry an extra pair of clothes and some personal essentials. Even the most savvy travellers easily forget this basic rule, but when baggage goes astray or held up by industrial action, they’ll wish they didn’t. Remember that airport security regulations and even security monitoring vary from destination to destination, so be safe and use only small plastic containers or bottles like those you find at cosmetic/grooming shops.

Certain items should never be packed in your check-in bag. These include cameras, computers, medication, wallets (yes, this has happened), heirlooms, jewelry, passports (yes, this too has happened) as well as confirmation numbers, itineraries and other documents necessary to your travel.

Itemise contents of your suitcase, especially the valuables (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place). This may seem like a tedious process, but the airlines are certain to ask you what has gone missing, and you don’t want to waste time trying to remember.

Make your suitcase easily recognisable. You own a black Samsonite? Guess what, so do many other passengers. This might be a problem when you are explaining to staff how your bag looks like. Always make sure each bag you carry sports a luggage tag, or go a step further and tie a yellow ribbon. If yellow’s not your colour, then use something else that’s distinctive. Just try not to go overboard.

Do not pack anything fragile or valuable in your check-in bag. Not everything broken or lost during the time it went missing will be reimbursed by the airline.

Furnish the airline with a duplicate of your travel itinerary. In the event they do find your bag and you are still in transit, the airline will know where to find you.

You have the right to redress. Don’t forget to put in a written claim to the airline in the event the bag never arrives. This is different from the missing luggage form filled out at the airport. Remember to keep receipts of any expenditures incurred due to the loss of belongings such as toiletries and the like.

Buy travel insurance. This may not have seemed necessary at the time but it may turn out to be the only way to receive compensation.

Don’t panic – if, at first, your bag doesn't arrive. Airlines have spent millions designing baggage handling systems and ways to track movements. They usually score in the high 90s in managing to reunite owners with their belongings.

Other helpful hints:

Have a photocopy of your identification and medical details on you. Should you encounter an accident or experience a medical condition, the authorities will be able to assist you better. Imagine doctors trying to give you a blood transfusion without knowing whether you are an A, B, AB or O?

Carry a local SIM card. A dual SIM card phone can make this easier, so there is no need to carry two instruments around. Samsung has been leading in this area among the mainstream brands, and the D880 <> is a model to consider investing in.

Margie T Logarta and He Ruiming

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