I write this column from an airport in Europe, where I’ve just collected my luggage, but I see a lot of bags piled up in a corner, and no one knows when or if they will be reunited with their owners.
With the number of travellers increasing and airports caught unaware, with reduced staffing levels, reports of misplaced and broken bags have flooded airline call centres and social media. I had two bags delivered broken last year, one on a domestic full-service carrier and another on an international full-service carrier, both times flying business class.
Several airlines are ignoring passenger queries about baggage processing. The mayhem is expected to last longer, with European hubs—London’s Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol—in a meltdown. The travel chaos is so bad that both hubs have imposed curbs on selling more seats on departing flights.
LEARN THE TRICKS
To help yourself, one of the things to do is place a tracker in your bag while travelling. I use Apple’s AirTags for my check-in and hand baggage. The tags are placed in the seams of the bag so that they don’t fall off. These Bluetooth-enabled tags work on low-power batteries that last a year.
Once activated, they emit feeble Bluetooth pings, which any iPhone, iPad or MacBook in the vicinity can catch and inform you about the location in real-time. Since the probability of having an iPhone at an airport is high, this almost always works. For Android users, there is a similar product called Tile.
With the AirTags, I’m able to keep an eye on my baggage moving through the system with just a look at my phone. And if your bag does not arrive on your flight, you would know it before the airline does. It is very handy for people who travel a lot, because airlines frequently don’t know the location of the bag. If you share what you see on the phone with them at the airport, they could make an earnest effort to get their colleagues to load your bags on the next plane.
Another thing to do before you check your bag in is to take a picture of the contents, just in case it gets lost forever. In case your bag does not make it with you after a flight, you are eligible for a certain amount of reimbursement for essentials such as clothes. Some airlines will just hand you the cash, but others would ask you to file for reimbursement and transfer the amount spent to you.
FILE A REPORT
Another good practice is to keep a copy of the receipt when you buy a new bag—I’ll explain why in a bit.
To return to the lost bag: An important step in case your bag breaks or just does not turn up is to file a property irregularity report (PIR) before you leave the airport premises. This puts the onus on the airline to find the bag, or if the bag is broken, get it fixed or replaced for you, or reimburse a new bag. That’s a reason airlines usually discourage people from filing a PIR. You should, however, insist on filing one and collecting a copy as well before you leave.
If the bag has not flown with you, you can usually find it via your AirTag or via the WorldTracer number on your baggage tag. If the bag needs work, someone from the repair shop will contact you, pick up the bag to work on it, and then return it to you. But if it is broken beyond repair, a different story starts to pan out.
Airlines insist on depreciating the value of the bag through some of their internal formulae and insist on paying much less for the bag, stating it was old and used. Having the receipt helps in such a case.
A domestic carrier, which broke my bag last year, insisted on replacing it with a much cheaper bag saying that mine had been old, but I held my ground and eventually got a full refund after showing them a receipt that clearly reflected it was a new bag.
Another thing to know is what kind of bags to bring along during business trips or vacations. For me, it has been hard tops over soft tops for years. If you can afford a good quality brand, such as Travelpro or Briggs & Riley, something which comes with a lifelong warranty, then nothing like it. I’ve owned a Victorinox for a long time and recently found Away bags to be good as well, though you will have to bother a relative coming from the US or the UK to bring one for you.
I believe it will take at least a year for the global stress around travel to eventually calm down. So, until then, it’s probably best to take charge on your own and try to keep your luggage safe.
Business of Travel is a column for travellers by a frequent traveller. Expect to read all things aeroplanes, hotels and loyalty here.
Ajay Awtaney is the founder and editor of LiveFromALounge.com, an India-focussed frequent-travel website.