Lost Luggage

Short of tarmac delays, lost luggage drives more hate of airlines than just about anything else I can think of.  I frequently hear stories from people about their bad experiences with lost, misplaced and stolen luggage and, to be honest, I generally discard them as data points to evaluate airlines by.

I’ve been flying since I was 2 years old and I have flown as many miles as any of today’s frequent flyers.  In that time, I’ve had luggage delayed or misplaced maybe as many times as can be counted on one hand.  I’ve had luggage completely lost once and, believe it or not, that was on a train, not an airline.

With a few exceptions, I check my luggage.  I have no interest in making my life more miserable navigating airports and flights with it. 

There are times when airlines not only get it wrong but get it wrong consistently.  US Airways wasn’t particularly good for quite a while in Philadelphia, for instance.  London Heathrow has handled such things very badly at times as well.

To the traveler, I say this:  planning for the event that has less than one percent chance of happening will only stress you out more than a single incident of it actually happening.   And if you can’t afford to check your bag, you can’t really afford to travel. 

Now, with all that said, I also think airlines do an atrocious job of handling these problems.  Airlines have never handled the problem well and they’ve only gotten worse at it by compounding the problem with luggage check fees. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  No airline should be charging a fee to check at least the first bag and as long as that bag is within some reasonable weight limit (50lbs domestic and 30lbs international strikes me as fair.)  The very nature of getting on an aircraft to go somewhere implies that a passenger is carrying luggage.  It’s silly and insulting to the traveler.

And to charge that fee regardless of whether or not you have delivered the bag with the traveler at the same time is also insulting.  If you want to charge fees, you need to be prepared to answer appropriate for not providing that service.  Airlines aren’t unique in that service sense.  Do we expect to pay for a meal that is 2 hours later at the table in a restaurant?

Furthermore, not doing your job in delivering the luggage with the person can impose an expensive, time consuming and challenging problem upon people.  Denying reasonable compensation in a timely manner is just wrong.  Plan for the expense and fix the problems causing the losses.

Writing complex and unfair clauses in your contracts of carriage is wrong.  I’m not sure the rules in place today are exactly fair to the airlines at times but they are the present rules.  Not following them or trying to sidestep them is wrong.  It’s bad business to cheat your customers.

There should be a time limit to how long an airline has to find your luggage and return it to you.  That should be something like 48 hours for domestic losses and no more than 5 days for international losses.  After that, you pay reasonable claims. 

I don’t think it particularly fair for a person to be able to pack $10,000 worth of items in a suitcase and then claim their loss entirely either.  But my solution would be to suggest to airlines that you charge insurance for any luggage exceeding $1000 in value.  There, I just gave you a new revenue stream and an opportunity to keep passengers happier and more secure.  Want to pack your Apple laptop in your luggage?  Go ahead but take out $1500 in insurance at, say, $10 per trip against this loss. 

And prove you actually put the expensive items in your suitcase. 

The dirty secret in this business is that you, the customer, have a long history of inflating the value of your possessions during a claim.  Suddenly a $200 Canon point and shoot camera becomes a $1000 Nikon in a claim.  That wrong and it’s fraud.

I also think airports and the TSA have a *strong* duty to keep luggage secure while transiting airports.  I know of already too many incidents where luggage secured with TSA approved locks were pillaged for their expensive items and then RELOCKED AND PUT ON THE PLANE.   That’s theft and only people with TSA lock *keys* are able to get into those bags. 

More transparency, fairness and insurance is required on all sides.  Everyone needs to quit addressing the problem with greed and most could stand to quit taking it personally.  Even airlines have a bad problem of acting as if they are victims over any lost luggage and they aren’t.


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