How to avoid losing luggage on a plane (or at least improve your chances)

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“Will my luggage arrive at its destination? With airport chaos making headlines all summer long, this is one of the most common travel questions I ask as people start to flock to the skies. While there’s always an element of luck involved, here are a few ways to increase your chances of arriving with all your stuff in hand.

Know the most common culprit. While bags sometimes disappear forever or are stolen outright, this scenario isn’t as prevalent as one might assume: it accounted for just 6% of messy luggage in 2021 (admittedly, before the recent chaos). That’s according to new statistics released this summer by SITA, the company that provides baggage computing services to many of the world’s airlines.

Rather than being totally lost, your luggage is much more likely to be delayed, which accounts for 71% of accidents. And the main cause of this, by far? You can blame the mishandling of transfers, the reason for 41% of baggage delays.

If you need to check in your suitcase, try to book a non-stop flight whenever possible, especially if you’re traveling overseas. According to SITA, the rate of routing errors on international lines is 8.7 bags per thousand passengers; on inland routes it is 1.85 bags per thousand.

Take only hand luggage. Yes, this tip is almost too obvious to include, and easier said than done. But in all my years, my luggage has only been delayed once, and that’s largely because I pretend to be a minimalist when I travel, taking an expandable wheelie that can be slide into the ceiling and a backpack that can fit under a seat. There’s no more relaxing way to start a vacation than stepping off the plane and past the baggage carousel. When you can’t avoid checking a suitcase, at least pack your essentials (I’d suggest anything you need to get through a day or two of travel) in your carry-on.

Follow it yourself. Even if you plan to take only hand luggage, there’s always a chance you’ll need to check your bags – for example, if you’re boarding a sardine tin flight, with no space available in the fee generals, or if you come home laden with memories. Before you check it out, throw away any bag-handling stickers from past trips and make sure there’s an outside label with your name and contacts (and insert a business card inside, too).

For a little extra peace of mind when traveling, I also recommend getting an Apple AirTag. I pack this Bluetooth tracker in my suitcase (where it can’t accidentally fall out), so I can see where it is using the « Find My » app on my iPhone.

The Tile Mate is a similar gadget, but the advantage of the AirTag is that any of the countless nearby Apple devices can detect its location (this process is anonymous to ensure privacy). While a tracker won’t prevent mistakes and mishandling, it could at least prevent you from, say, wasting time in a carousel while your suitcase is still stuck in Toronto. Additionally, this information can help your airline locate your baggage and return it to its proper place.


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