(CNN) — It’s enough to give anyone already nervous about the chaos in the skies yet another reason to pop an antacid: the prospect of delayed, lost or damaged baggage.
The concern is valid.
Handing over checked suitcases can almost feel like a leap of faith these days.
How bad is the problem?
In May 2021, 0.38 out of 100 bags enplaned were mishandled. That figure went up to 0.56 per 100 bags enplaned in May 2022.
However, that still puts more than 99 out of 100 bags going where they needed to go without incident.
Uncollected suitcases are gathered at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 baggage reclaim on July 8, 2022. Such scenes have people wondering how to avoid such a mess.
PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Scott Keyes, the founder of flight deals and travel advice site Scott’s Cheap Flights, said he’s encouraging people not to let news of baggage issues put them off their flights and vacations.
“Every bag that gets lost is a huge disruption for the people whose bag that is — and I certainly don’t want to downplay that — but I do want folks to have the proper perspective that in the vast majority cases, your flight is going to fly and your checked bag is going to arrive,” he told CNN Travel.
Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel for AAA, sees better days ahead.
“As staffing improves, more pilots are trained and flight frequency increases, we will see this issue start to disappear,” she said in an email to CNN Travel.
In the meantime, you’re not totally powerless. There are things you can do and strategies you can take to help avoid or at least minimize the impact of lost and delayed luggage.
Before you go to the airport
Book nonstop flights: If you’re really concerned about your checked luggage, prioritize nonstop flights or at least layovers with a generous amount of time, Keyes said.
“Bags are most likely to get lost in that transfer between planes at connection, especially if there’s a tight connection.” And he said that’s doubly so for international flights with tight connections.
Consider discount airlines: He said full-service airlines are more likely to lose your bags than the discount airlines, which tend to have more nonstop flights that have a lower likelihood of losing a bag in transit.
Legacy airlines tend to have more connecting flights. Keyes said he wouldn’t make a booking decision based solely on this, but it’s “an interesting side factor to consider.”
Suitcases roll onto a Sundair A320 aircraft at Dresden International Airport in Germany. Take a photograph of your luggage. It could come in handy later.
Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty Images
Take pictures of your luggage and its contents: Jo Hoban, a travel agent in Spanish Fork, Utah, about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City, told CNN Travel that she advises her clients to “take a picture of their bags because the first things airline offices will ask you is what is the brand name of the bag, what is the color of the bag, the size of the bag and the contents of the bag.”
She also said people should lay out what they are planning to pack on the bed and take a picture of that, too. If the bag is lost, that helps create a content record.
Use baggage tracking: “Many airlines allow you to see the status of your bags in their apps, which can help give you peace of mind that your bag is on the flight with you — or at least give you insight into your bag’s location should it get delayed,” Scott’s Cheap Flights said in an email news release.
“I have had a bag taken off the carousel at the airport in Salt Lake [City]. Luckily, I knew the people who took my bag so it was easy to exchange it,” she said. “But again, what if I did not know those people? What if they were total strangers and got my bag home? Hopefully, they’re good, honest people and see that I have a name and phone number in the bag that they can call me and let me know the mistake.”
Samantha Brown has been crossing the globe as a TV travel host for 20 years. She often just takes a carry on bag, and offers her best tips for packing up your luggage. First tip: go with a hardside suitcase
The power of carry-ons: The airlines can’t lose baggage you never check in. Twidale suggests packing as light as you can and use just carry-ons. You’ll save time leaving the airport and have more peace of mind.
Review your credit card coverage: Before you buy extra travel insurance, Keyes suggested you check your credit card policy for travel protection.
You might get supplemental compensation (for what the airlines don’t cover) not only for lost bags, but also for reimbursements for things you may need to buy while you’re waiting for your bag.
At the airport before you fly
Check your bags in a timely manner: Travelers United says last-minute baggage check-ins can lead to a greater chance of trouble.
“Don’t push the system. The smallest delay can have serious consequences when your luggage is cruising down the conveyor belt and selected for security examination with little time to spare,” its website says.
Work that phone camera again: Keyes suggested that just before handing over your checked suitcases, open them up and take a picture.
“If your bag does get lost, and you’ve got any valuables in there … having a photograph of what was in there is really going to bolster your case to get compensation after the fact.”
If your baggage is delayed
Report your issue and fill out forms at the airport: If your bags haven’t shown up, let the airline know.
“Many times, airline personnel will explain that the luggage has been located but will be delayed until the next flight,” Travelers United says. “If you have the time, wait. If not, fill out the appropriate lost luggage forms at the airport.”
Let the airline deliver your bags: Keyes said if an airline can locate your suitcases but it’s going to be hours before they arrive, make sure the reps have the address where you’ll be and use the airline’s delivery service.
Keep receipts: “If you buy anything to get you through the days without your luggage — from a new swimsuit to toothpaste — keep the receipts. You may need these to get reimbursed,” Scott’s Cheap Flights advises.
If your luggage is lost
Suitcases can really pile up in a baggage claim area, such as this one in Hamburg, Germany. If your luggage is lost, you can get compensation.
“They’ve got a special aviation enforcement office where they’re being much more pro-active about protecting consumers and trying to clamp down on airlines when they’re not providing customers with the type of compensation or reimbursement that they’re required to do under federal laws.”
Liability limits: There’s fine print, exceptions and paperwork / documentation hurdles, but you can eventually get cash for your lost bags.
They are liable for damage to wheels, handles and straps.