Tips to keep track of your luggage
The luggage carousel grinds to a halt. All the other passengers have collected their bags. You stand there alone, anxiety rising. Your bag is missing.
Unfortunate travellers are separated from their checked bags every day, as I was, following a recent flight. Luck plays a part in who is left empty-handed, but there's plenty you can do to boost yours.
Former airline employee Scott T. Mueller offers advice in The Empty Carousel: A Consumer's Guide to Checked and Carry-on Luggage (Millkot, 2007). It's a short, large-print book–more of an essay, really. However, he provides some good tips from his five years working as a baggage-services manager for a small American airline.
Mueller claims that a lack of proper identification is the top reason people are never reunited with their lost bags. If a name tag is inadvertently ripped off during handling and you haven't labelled the bag inside, good luck. He favours ID tags that lie flush with the luggage, and advises placing a prominent note with your name and phone number on top of the contents of your bag.
He also suggests affixing a unique visual identifier, such as a ribbon, to your suitcase so that you can spot it on the carousel. This also helps prevent luggage swaps–when passengers accidentally take a bag similar to theirs.
Don't dawdle en route to the baggage claim, and if you've checked equipment like skis, get thee promptly to the oversized-claim area. "Thieves work fast and watch for bags that have travelled around the belt system more than once because their owners are absent or have not seen their bags," Mueller writes.
Be vigilant when checking in, he adds. Confirm that bags will be checked through to your final destination, and eyeball the tags to ensure they're correct. According to Mueller, bags are usually lost because they're loaded on the wrong plane or not loaded at all.
To avoid confusion, tear off all old airline tags from your luggage, advises Air Canada's Web site ( www.aircanada.com/ ). The carrier suggests labelling a destination address as well as a home address. And–think about it–don't pack your car or house keys in your checked luggage. (Mueller's motto? "If you can't replace it, live without it, or seal the deal without it, don't pack it.")
If your bag is delayed, security–not your airline–may be to blame. Mueller reports that in the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration screens your bag, and the airline can't do anything about it if a TSA holdup results in your bag missing the flight.
According to Air Canada's Web site, this also applies if you're flying from Canada to the U.S., or connecting through it. "If your bag is unlocked, then TSA will simply open and screen the bag. However, if the bag is locked and TSA needs to open your bag, the locks may have to be broken. You may keep your bag locked if you choose, however, passengers who elect to lock their checked baggage must do so with the understanding that this process may result in damage to locks and/or baggage delays."
This explains what happened to my bag. Although it was unlocked, it got held up by TSA and sent on the next flight. I blame the foot-long salami I'd packed, which resembled something unspeakable in an airport. Next time, I'll carry on.