Few companies have the ability to infuriate its customers like an airline company. Even fewer are allowed to do it daily and remain in business. What’s the lesson? Provide a service so valuable your patrons can’t help but keep coming back, no matter how you treat them. Also, be ready. The most annoying flying experience might be that of the missing or lost luggage. If you fly enough, for business or pleasure, you will likely feel the misfortune of such an event. The Department of Transportation reports that nearly 4% of all bags entrusted to the airline industry this year (Jan thru Sept) were claimed by passengers to be mishandled. Thankfully, that is down from last year’s 5.4%, but airlines are handling fewer bags. Follow these tips to help avoid total travel travesty.       

Pack light

Use a carry-on whenever possible. Your bag cannot be crushed, put on the wrong plane or lost completely if it is at your feet the entire flight. Obviously, longer trips will require more clothes, accessories, etc, so force yourself to choose items that are absolutely essential. Travel writer extraordinaire Rick Steves tells us on his website how to pack all we need in one bag. He recommends taking fewer clothes and washing them if necessary while on your trip. To prepare for cold weather, avoid a lot of bulk by packing items that layer well.

Watch your valuables

If you are checking a bag, make sure it is not filled with valuable or important items, such as jewelery and medicine. ALWAYS take your medicine with you on the plane. High-priced items like jewelery and electronics need to be on your person as well for one very key reason – the airline likely will not reimburse you for them if they are lost. Alaska Airlines baggage contract lists 21 categories of items deemed “unsuitable” for which they have no liability. Included in the list is – cash, electronics, business documents, precious metals, historical artifacts and game trophies.

Insure yourself

If you must pack grandma’s 100 year-old spoon collection or that 20-point rack you obtain in Iowa, consider Travel Insurance. Packages exist that will cover you in the event of lost or destroyed baggage. There are many companies that offer plans with baggage coverage from $500 up to $3000. The purchase price can range from $40 to $150, of course depending on where you are traveling and what your home state is.

Hold on to your ticket

In the event you believe a checked item has been lost, head straight to the airline’s baggage desk and make a claim. It will expedite things if you can present your baggage ticket stub along with all other travel documentation. You’ll need to describe the luggage and its contents. Try to remain calm, these desk jockeys deal with unruly customers everyday, and your yelling may only cause them to tune out. Most likely, your bag is in Denver when it should be in Miami. Annoying, yes, but the airline could then tell you when the bag would arrive and deliver it to where ever you are staying. Notify the hotel when you check-in that you have another bag coming and have them let you know when it arrives. If necessary, have the concierge point you to the nearest department store.

Make them pay

Sometimes lost bags remain that way. Where do they go? The airlines aren’t saying. What they must do, however, is reimburse you. The maximum they are liable for is $3,300. Remember, though, the exceptions list that they are not on the hook for. To help yourself remember what you packed, and bolster your claim, consider snapping a quick picture of your items before zipping up the suitcase. This image could help prove that your girlfriend’s collection of Seven Jeans was indeed in the lost bag. A successful claim will likely take several months to be paid. At some point, the airline may actually locate your luggage, but they will not tell you. The payment transfers ownership to the airline. You may find your luggage, though, at the Unclaimed Baggage Store in Scottsboro, AL. This store purchases unclaimed (and lost) luggage from airline companies and sells it warehouse-style to the public.

Indescribably frustrating, a lost bag can really put a damper on a trip. If you protect yourself and understand your rights, though, your blood pressure may remain at healthy levels. Also, the DOT publishes stats on which airlines struggle the most to provide the service they charge you for. If you have the option, avoid those with the most blunders.