How to lose your bags (without losing your mind)

Here is a piece of universal wisdom: when you fly, be prepared for delayed luggage.

I have probably written this post before, maybe even published it here. But it bears repeating, because I keep having to learn the lesson.

If there’s one thing I’m expert at, it’s lost luggage on international flights. (I have a friend who just flew from the USA to Split, Croatia. One of his bags was delayed. He told me, “I have fallen prey to the Stepp curse.”)

I have flown from Europe to the USA at least a dozen times, maybe 15 or 16. And as I write this I’m in a hotel in DFW waiting on the airline to deliver our bags, because they (our bags) decided to stay in Paris without us. It’s the fifth or sixth time I/we have waited on luggage.

“You paid us for your seat, not for your bag.”

Air France (reportedly)

There are things you can do to make lost luggage less painful. There are tricks to packing & preparing for international flights that may ease the experience if and when it happens. (As always, your mileage may vary.)

Some European airports are famous for “misplacing” travelers’ luggage. I imagine that their baggage areas are black holes filled with gorillas, professional wrestlers on meth, XXXXXXX (people who lose your bag on purpose because they can), and incompetents. DeGaulle comes to mind. So does Madrid. (So does Newark.) Anyway.

When you fly, the following tips may make the occasional lost/delayed luggage experience better.

  1. Pack with the assumption that you may not have your main piece of luggage with you when you first arrive at your destination. Prepare yourself before you leave for the airport.
    1. Your luggage may be 24 hours late. I have on one occasion waited for FIVE DAYS for my suitcase to arrive in DFW. (Lufthansa lost it in Newark, and then needed three days to find it.)
  2. It’s always best NOT TO CHECK A BAG. Wear two outfits onto the plane, push the limit on your carryon, etc. If you can, don’t check a bag. But most of the time, you’ll need to check a bag.
  3. Even if everything fits in your checked bag, you should always have a carryon. Most airlines will let you carry TWO items, a carryon and a briefcase or purse. What do you put in your carryon if everything fits in your checked bag?
  4. When you pack:
    1. Always put your medications in your carryon. How many days do you want to go without your insulin, your blood pressure medication, etc., while waiting for the airline to get its act together?
    2. Always put a snack in your carryon. Sleeping in airports is not fun. It’s even worse when all the shops & restaurants are closed and you’re hungry.
    3. If you’re carrying a CPAP, always put your CPAP in your carryon. Yes, you’ll have to take it out of the bag when you go through security. That’s better than trying to sleep without it.
    4. Always put two days worth of underwear, socks, a clean t-shirt, etc., in your carryon.
    5. Always put deodorant, a toothbrush, and a travel-size toothpaste in your carryon.
    6. Always put handy wipes (wet wipes, whatever you call them) in your carryon.
  5. Know the lost baggage and out-of-pocket expense policies of the airline that delivers you to your final destination. On this trip, Air France lost our bags, but Delta is the airline that got us to DFW. So I need to know DELTA’S policies, because they’re who we’re dealing with. This can be important. For example, Delta has no set limit on compensation for replacement items. United, on the other hand, has a set limit (unless they’ve changed their policy recently).
  6. As soon as you check your luggage, use your phone to take pictures of the baggage stickers, the little tags that the desk agent gives you. They usually put those tags on the back of the boarding pass. Those numbers are life and death if your bags are lost. If your bags are lost and you don’t have those numbers, you will be in a world of hurt. I know this from experience.
  7. Download the app for your airline(s) onto your smart phone. Most airline apps have a “track my bags” feature. When you board your connecting flight, you can check and see if your bag has made it onto the airplane with you. Then you can spend the last leg of your flight preparing yourself to talk to customer service when you land.
  8. As I said above: BEGIN YOUR TRIP BY PREPARING YOURSELF TO WAIT ON YOUR LUGGAGE. My own experience is that my bags arrive when I do about 65% of the time, which means that 35% of the time …

One thought on “How to lose your bags (without losing your mind)

  1. It’s been a few days since I traveled with a c-pap, but when I did, they allowed that in addition to your two other items since it was considered a medical device.


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