Lost luggage can put a real damper on anyone’s vacation. In the 50+ years I’ve been traveling, I can honestly say it’s only happened to me a handful of times. And my suitcase always arrived on a later flight or at the latest the next day. Until 2022.
In 2022, travelers happily returned to the skies after being grounded for two miserable Covid years. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, airports and baggage handlers couldn’t keep up with the masses and lost luggage mounted in record numbers.
My Nightmare Experience
My husband and I fell victim to the chaos in September 2022. Due to a Lufthansa pilot strike, our flight from SFO to Naples, through Frankfurt was cancelled at the last minute. Lufthansa rerouted us the next day on a ridiculous United flight from SFO-London Heathrow and then Swiss from London-Zurich-Naples. I just knew our bags wouldn’t make with all of those stops and different airlines. I tried to change our flight, but no other airline had room since everyone else was stranded.
After scoring one of the last rooms at the SFO airport Hyatt, we decided to repack. I always bring a packable duffle bag for souvenirs and I also had a rolling carry on for this trip (in addition to a checked bag for each of us). We packed a few changes of clothes and essentials in the duffle and the carry on “just in case”. I also had AirTags in our bags…a true Godsend! More on that later.
Our flight into Zurich was delayed, so we barely made it to the gate for the flight to Naples…our bags didn’t. Upon arrival in Naples we reported our lost bags and prayed they would come later that night as promised. No such luck. It took 12 DAYS! I repeat 12 DAYS! I tracked them with my AirTags for 12 days. They spent 4 days in Zurich, 1 day in Rome, 4 days in Naples, and 3 days in Florence. Those bags had a great vacation. They were supposed to be delivered to us at the Villa we were renting in Tuscany. After tracking them in Florence for three days, we picked them up ourselves at the Florence airport. The reunion with “big pink” was bliss.
Naturally, I managed to do some clothes shopping during the 12 days of missing my bag hehe. But I also learned some valuable lessons from my experience and want to share so that no one has to suffer like I did!
Pack Essentials in Carry On
Pack a carry on with all essentials. Think things you cannot live without like medications. I always pack at least one change of clothes, medications and my cosmetics in my carry on. Also, always put anything valuable like electronics, camera equipment, money and jewelry in your carry on. All of these things take up little to no room, you could easily fit them in a tote or backpack. Check out Carry On Essentials for more information on what I pack in my carry on.
Apple Air Tags
The absolute best thing I ever purchased for a trip: Apple Air Tags. These little babies are a Godsend. They are easy to pair with your iPhone and you can customize each one with a name and separate emoji. They are tracked through the Find My app on your iPhone under the items label. I put them in each bag I bring, including carry ons. I was able to track our suitcases and knew exactly where they were for 12 days. It really helped when I finally went to retrieve them at the Florence airport. You can get a pack of 4 at Costco for around $80, cheaper than buying them individually.
No Black Suitcases
Have you ever noticed how many black suitcases there are in baggage claim? Do yourself a favor and purchase other colors. I travel with a pink one, my husband’s is navy blue. I also have green and silver ones. Brighter colors are best. You want to make it easier to distinguish your bags from someone else’s, especially for the lost luggage handlers! On the plus side, no one will mistake your black bag from their own, which happens all the time.
Use Colorful Straps
Put some colorful straps around your suitcase to further identify your bag in baggage claim. It also helps the lost luggage handlers find your bag in a sea (or mountain) of lost bags. Straps are great if the zipper decides to fail on your bag too…your unmentionables won’t be exposed to all on the carrousel. Coloful ribbons on handles or pom poms also help for identification.
Take a Photo
Before you leave for the airport take a photo of each bag you plan to check and each carry on as well. This is a great way to help lost luggage handlers find your bag. When I went to pick up my bags in Florence I got a hold of a lazy person who didn’t want to search the sea of lost luggage. My photo was the saving grace…she found them in two minutes!
Keep Baggage Claim Ticket
When you check bags, you will receive a claim ticket with a scan QR or barcode. That baggage claim ticket is your luggage identification…do not lose it or throw it away until you are safely reunited with your bags! Some airlines have online tracking so you can track where your bags are. United has a fairly reliable one, but I still recommend using AirTags at all times.
Notify Lost Luggage at Airport
That horrible feeling…you are the last person waiting for your bag to appear on the baggage carousel and it stops. Don’t panic. Walk immediatley to the lost luggage counter and fill out the necessary forms. Do not leave the airport or baggage claim without doing this! Be sure to put a reliable phone number, email address and hotel information on the form. Describe your luggage as best as possible with as much identifying markers and colors as possible, like the straps or ribbons! Also, get a copy of the form for reference and a phone number of the lost luggage department at your arrival airport.
Check in with the lost luggage department several times a day, call and annoy them if you have to! File a lost luggage claim on the airline website. You will need the form you received at the airport and your baggage claim tickets. This way the airline will also help track the lost bags and keep you informed. If you are moving around (like I was in Italy), you can update your contact address and delivery address online as you travel.
If your bags are missing for more than a day go out and buy some essentials. Airlines will reimburse you for purchases, but the amounts vary depending on the airline and class of service your are flying. You will have to use your own money to make the purchases and file a claim upon your return home. Be sure to save all receipts for your purchases. I went shopping for some cosmetic essentials (and more LOL) when my bags were lost for 12 days. It was a fun shopping spree…Italian dresses and shoes! All you do is submit a claim on the airline website when you get home, upload all receipts and wait for them to respond. It took 3 months, but my husband and I were reimbursed $800 each! Well worth the wait.
Carry On Only?
The final lesson I learned it that if at all possible, fly carry on only. Now, if you know me that is next to impossible. However, I did learn the valuable lesson that I really don’t need so many choices in clothing or 6 pairs of shoes. Things can be reworn. Luckily our villa in Tuscany had laundry so I could do our wash every few days. Cities also have laudromats and hotels provide laundry service. Small items can always be washed in the hotel sink and hung to dry overnight. Pack color coordinating clothing that will dry quickly, some materials are better like nylon, modal, silk, polyester and rayon. I use the hotel hair dryer to help the drying process along, and it removes wrinkles as well!
Hopefully you won’t have the same experience with lost luggage for 12 days as I did! If you do, I hope my lessons can help you.
Keep traveling and exploring new destinations