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Considering how inept most airlines are it’s something of a small miracle whenever you’re greeted by your luggage at baggage claim. My grim feelings on the airlines aside, I do check my bag (keeping my electronics separately with me) and aside from the occasional delay, have always gotten them back. Using a general 3-step process however, there are some measures you can take to reduce your luggage’s chances of being one of the 42 million each year to be delayed or go missing.

You should prepare yourself to minimize the chance of a loss, take matters into your digital hands, and have your case in order when you need the airlines to pay up for their mishap. Fortunately there isn’t much to it aside from a few good clicks, clock hand ticks, and learning to deal with airline…personnel.

Notifying The Airlines

We’re going to work a bit backwards through the process of a lost bag so you can see the importance of certain steps you should have taken along the way. The first is obviously to report your bags missing as soon as you realize they are. First thing’s first, be sure to ask the staff immediately around the luggage carousels to confirm your bags weren’t offloaded to some near pickup point in baggage claim. (Especially important if you had some delay getting off the plane or at passport control.)

cell photo of bags

  • Save Yourself Time By Having A Photo Of Your Bags – Verbal descriptions of luggage tend to sound eerily similar; plus you can shorten your time in lost-and-found lines but simply having a snap of your bags on your smartphone or digital camera.
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You also want to be sure to take a photo of the inside of your bag, making sure to get each layer of everything you packed. These photos will be useful when making a claim so you can value your belongings in case your bags never do show up.

  • Have Photos Of Your Most Expensive Items – Although I strongly don’t recommend packing an iPad into check luggage (they get stolen) any high-ticket items should clearly be in your bag photos for reimbursement purposes.

Remember, when dealing with airline staff, take a few pages out of The Art Of War and bring them over to your side against the company. Pay compliments at the right time, be stern yet slightly angry, and avoid getting confrontational as it will most likely work against you.

rack of sunglassesTrack Your Bags Like James Bond

In case your bags do disappear for a while you can take matters into your own hands to try and track your belongings. The most rudimentary way is to use an I-TRAK, which are baggage tags with unique codes embedded on them. These codes can be entered by any honest person online via the I-TRAK website, which will then email, text, or call you in the event your bags are recovered.

  • Put That Old Smartphone To Use – Chances are you’ve upgraded your phone somewhat recently or have an old iPod Touch laying around; in both cases you can re-purpose those ancient digital artifacts as free tracking devices. Install Project Prey (free) on one, then store it in a secure pocket somewhere hidden in your bag. If your bags go missing or stolen, you may be able to track them using the Project Prey software and not be too broken-hearted if the tracking device of your choosing itself happens to go missing.
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There are also real-time GPS tracking devices like the Telespial TrackStick ($149) which can be carefully deposited into your bags when the airlines can’t seem to pin down a location on them.

Reduce Loss Risk Factors In The First Place

After calling around to several major airlines, many seemed to agree on these points when it comes to getting your bags to their destination. First of all, try to avoid checking in your bags at the last possible minute (it’s tough I know, I do it all the time) and avoid checking in your bags very early before a long layover (more than 5 hours). Rather, use airport lockers or simply keep your bags with you when feasible; and be sure to confirm luggage tags are placed securely around sturdy handles.

The airlines also advised never to leave the check-in counter without a baggage tag slip as tracking without one becomes much more difficult and be sure to notify staff whenever you’ve got extremely tight connections on your route. Often they’ll be able to place an ‘URGENT’ or ‘priority’ tag on your bags so handlers know they’re in a rush.