How to Get a Handle on Lost Luggage
It's a traveler's worst nightmare — going to baggage claim after getting off a plane and discovering that your luggage hasn't arrived.
The good news is that, according to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics' latest report, only 0.4 percent of luggage on U.S. domestic flights was mishandled — i.e., lost, stolen, or misplaced.
The bad news is if your bags are part of that 0.4 percent, it can put a damper on an entire vacation.
What to do when your bags go missing
If you get to the baggage carousel and your luggage isn't there, head directly to the airline's baggage counter and talk to a representative from the airline. Do not leave the airport until you fill out all the necessary forms.
It is also helpful if you can describe your bag and provide a comprehensive list of its contents, according to Annie Wang, a blogger with San Francisco-based NerdWallet Travel.
Then, she added, follow up with the airline.
"The airline should stay in contact with you," Wang, an avid traveler herself, said. "But feel free to call or send an email inquiring about your case."
Another concern is about items stolen from your luggage. A former Transportation Security Administration security officer told ABC News last year that thefts by security screeners are commonplace.
If you get to your hotel, discover something missing from your suitcases and think the security screeners might be at fault, the TSA recommends filing a claim with the TSA Claims Management Branch. If you think the airline is responsible, report it to the airline.
These reports need to be done as soon as possible. Not all airlines may accept a claim made 48 hours after landing.
How would you know who might be responsible for the missing items?
According to Sean O'Neill in Budget Travel, if your suitcase has a slip of paper stating that the luggage had been searched by the TSA, contact the agency. If there is no paper, contact the airline.
How to avoid losing luggage
While you can't totally protect your baggage, there are steps to take to decrease the possibility of luggage, or personal items, going missing:
Whenever possible, book direct flights.
"Multiple flights make it easier to lose a suitcase in transit," Wang said.
The more valuable the item, the closer to your person it should be kept.
In other words, don't ever pack anything of value — electronics, jewelry, extra cash or credit cards — in a checked bag.
If possible, avoid packing valuables in a carry-on suitcase as well, because the bag will be out of your sight in an overhead bin, or, on a full flight, may even be checked at the gate.
Instead, pack valuables in the personal bag that you can stow under the seat in front of you.
The less you have to take on a trip, the better.
If you don't think you'll use it, don't take it. The fewer items in your possession, the fewer items to go missing.
Get to baggage claim ASAP.
You might think you have time for a bite or a bit of shopping before your luggage arrives at the baggage carousel, but there are often thieves waiting to grab unclaimed suitcases.
Designer luggage makes you a target.
If your luggage is expensive, thieves get the message that what's inside is also expensive. Cheap, generic-looking — but sturdy — luggage may be a safer bet.
Never let your baggage out of your sight.
Security checkpoints are a common place for items to disappear. Gather all of your belongings and put items like phones and laptops away before worrying about putting your shoes back on.
The same vigilance should apply while waiting for a taxi or riding an airport shuttle. It's easy for the wrong person to "accidentally" grab your suitcase.
Consider travel insurance.
If nothing more, it will provide peace of mind, and if you do find yourself among that 0.4 percent, it will cover your losses.