When you go on vacation, the last thing you want to do is deal with airline headaches and lost luggage. And nothing is worst than that sinking feeling when everybody else from your flight has come and gone from baggage claim, and you’re still watching an empty carousel, waiting for your suitcase to appear. It’s not likely that your airline will lose your luggage — but it still happens.
You can’t always prevent your airline from losing your luggage. But if you know the right things to do from the moment you arrive at your home airport, you can reduce your chances of lost luggage. Read on to check out the best ways to keep your luggage and your airline on track the next time you fly.
1. Remove old airline luggage tags
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or you’ve had your suitcase stashed under your bed for a year, you should always make sure you’ve removed old airline luggage tags and stickers. The Points Guy notes if you forget to take those off, your bag could be accidentally re-routed to your previous destination. Sometimes, you’ll just need to remove a paper tag. But you should check the bag over for stickers, as well, because even one misplaced bar code could throw the bag off track.
2. Try to avoid short layovers
Another strategy you can use to reduce your chances of lost luggage? Try to avoid booking itineraries with short layovers. If your first flight arrives late, you’ll only have a little bit of time to catch your connecting flight. But the airport staff will also only have a small window of time to get your checked luggage from one plane to another. Any layover that lasts less than an hour isn’t ideal.
3. Know your airline’s policies for international flights
Most of the time, checking a bag and then picking it up again are relatively straightforward. However, you need to pay attention to your airline’s policies, especially if you’re flying internationally. The Huffington Post notes1 if you have an international connecting flight, you might need to pick up your checked luggage at baggage claim, clear customs and airport security, and then recheck your bag. That might also be the case for travelers arriving in the U.S. from an international destination and then taking a domestic connecting flight. (Again, longer layovers are better.) When you check in, just ask the airline staff whether you need to recheck your bag at your connection or whether it will get transferred automatically.
4. Don’t overpack your bag
An unexpected way to avoid lost luggage? Consumerist recommends you avoid overpacking your bag. If you stuff too many things into your duffel or suitcase, you risk the bag bursting when baggage handlers throw it or when it gets caught in the conveyor belt. According to Consumerist, “When they do burst, no one wants to zipper it back up.” So baggage handlers usually put the bag aside, which results in a delayed or lost bag. The more streamlined your bag (and your packing list), the better.
5. Upgrade your luggage tag
According to The Huffington Post, one of the best ways to prevent lost luggage is simply to upgrade your luggage tag. Choose a luggage tag with a microchip that you can use track down a lost bag. It might not keep your bag from getting lost, but it can help you locate your possessions if your luggage goes missing. Many tags feature a code that airline personnel can scan to identify a lost bag. The Huffington Post notes many bags get lost when the paper airport tags get ripped off. So if nothing else, you should choose a durable tag that’s made out of fabric or leather to attach to your bag.
6. Double-check the airport’s tag
USA Today recommends when you check in and hand over your checked luggage, you should always “double-check that the attendant has printed your tag correctly and that it has the correct destination airport.” Those kinds of errors might not happen often. However, when they do, they can result in your bag getting on one plane and you getting on another. U.S. News notes though airlines have considered using digital tags or plastic reusable e-tags, they haven’t yet adopted the technology. That means the check-in agent has to get it right.
7. Check in early
We can think of lots of reasons to check in early. It reduces your odds of getting bumped from your flight, and it also decreases your chances of dealing with lost luggage. Baggage handlers need time to screen luggage and then to load it onto planes. So if you arrive at the airport at the last minute or get stuck in a long check-in line, you’re more likely to end up with lost luggage. Nobody loves hanging out at the airport for hours, but you should check in and hand over your bag as early as you can.
8. Make your bag look unique
Traveling with the same black bag as everybody else increases your chances that somebody else will pick up your bag by mistake. The Huffington Post recommends using a colorful luggage strap or some bright duct tape to make your bag look unique. You could also tie a ribbon or scarf to the handle (as securely as you can). Or you could add stickers or patches to help your bag stand out.
9. Choose an airline with a good track record for lost luggage
It shouldn’t be your top priority when you’re booking your flight, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to choose an airline that has a decent track record for baggage handling. Today reports that Virgin Atlantic, for instance, has the best record for baggage performance. JetBlue comes in second. And Delta comes in at No. 3. And if you want to avoid the worst airline? Just steer clear of American Airlines.
10. Remove anything that could get caught and damage your bag
Consumerist reports another smart way you can reduce your chances of lost luggage: You should remove any parts of the back that could get stuck on the conveyor system and damage the bag. Zippers, locks, and loose straps can act “like anchors if they get stuck on something. You run a good chance of damaging your bag, bursting your bag, or having your bag lost.” Tighten loose straps, and tuck zipper pulls and locks under the handle on the top of the bag. Don’t leave them hanging at the side of the suitcase. Also, make sure to tuck in loose handles to keep them from getting caught.
11. Put a copy of your itinerary and your contact info in your bag
Luggage tags get torn off, so it’s a great idea to put a copy of your itinerary inside the bag you plan to check. Write down your itinerary, along with your contact information, on a piece of paper that you place prominently inside the bag. If the airline delays your bag or the luggage tag tears off, the airline staff will have a better chance of getting your luggage to you. The Points Guy even recommends affixing a sticker with your contact information to the outside of the bag, where airline workers can’t miss it.
12. Get to baggage claim as quickly as you can
Another smart recommendation from The Points Guy? When you land, get to the baggage claim carousel as soon as you can. There’s always a possibility that someone could purposefully steal your bag, but it’s more common that a fellow traveler could take your bag by mistake. To keep that from happening, go to baggage claim quickly, and be one of the first to get your bag.
13. Keep a photo of your bag on your phone
If the airline does lose your bag, having a photo could help you get it back. Save a photo of the outside of your bag to show to the airline staff who will help you look for the bag. Also, take a photo of your baggage claim ticket, just in case you drop or misplace it. And always take a photo of the contents of your bag, which will help you in the worst-case scenario that you end up filing a claim for a lost bag.
14. Consider shipping your bag instead of checking it
If you really want to prevent your airline from losing your baggage, then consider not handing it over in the first place. The Huffington Post advises by shipping your luggage, you reduce the chances that it will get lost. And you also avoid airline fees for overweight and oversized bags. A shipped bag will take longer to arrive than a checked one. However, with a little planning, you can ship your bag to your hotel. You’ll save money, and you’ll be able to track your shipment on its way to your vacation destination.
15. Avoid packing things you’ll need right away in your checked bag
Again, this won’t really help you prevent your airline from losing your bag. But it can help you minimize the damage if you do end up with lost luggage. Put items you couldn’t replace and medications that would be dangerous to lose in your “personal item,” meaning your backpack or your handbag, not in your checked baggage. It also doesn’t hurt to pack a change of clothes, just in case the airline delays or loses your luggage.