Baggage Claim

You're always tired when you are waiting for your bags to come off the plane. If you are two parents, it is best for one parent to stand sentry duty next to the conveyer belt watching for luggage. The other parent can wait nearby with the kids. This makes it easier on the little ones as well as keeping them away from the moving machinery and other tired grownups slinging heavy suitcases around.

Stand Here

Stand just “downstream” of where the bags come tumbling off the plane onto the conveyer belt. There is always a crowd at the place right where the bags fall onto the belt, and you'll do better to avoid that knot. Also, being just downstream gives you an extra moment to spot your luggage. Remember, at this point you are also likely quite tired and jet lagging as well.

Find Great Luggage at eBags.com

If you were delayed getting to the baggage claim area, look around the belt area first for your luggage. To alleviate congestion at the belt, sometimes airline staff will pull bags off the belt and/or the plane and stack them nearby.

Missing Luggage

If one of your bags is missing or damaged, no matter how tired you are, it is always best to deal with it right at the airport. There is usually an airline office near the claims area where you can explain what happened.

The very good news is that with modern bar coded, computerized luggage handling, lost or misplaced suitcases are far and few between. In all our years of traveling, we have only had a single piece “lost”.

If the odds are against you and you believe you have lost a piece of baggage, have your luggage claim chits handy; they are usually stapled into your ticket envelope when you finish checking in. Be prepared to supply an address and phone number locally where you can be reached for the next two or three days (if the bag is truly “lost”, what happened is that it was put on the wrong plane and is sitting in Tel Aviv while you are standing in Geneva. It will take a day or two for someone at the other end to recognize they have an unclaimed bag, and another day or so after that for the machinery to get the bag to you).

Whenever a bag of mine has been delayed, the airlines will deliver it to wherever you are. They may try to get you to come back to the airport to pick it up. Don't. They've misplaced your bag and majorly inconvenienced you. The least they can do is bring the bag to you. Even if you're a few hours away from the airport, push on this.

Sometimes you can negotiate with the airline for them to provide you with toiletries and other small items to make the temporary loss of the bag less of a hassle on you. Once you get to your hotel, make the front desk aware that a piece of luggage will be arriving (hopefully!) in the next day or two, and make whatever arrangements need to be made at the hotel to receive your stuff.

Damaged Luggage

Damaged luggage is a bit different. Each airline will have its own ideas of what constitutes “damage” that they are responsible for. The basic idea is that “normal” wear and tear is your problem, and accidental rips and crunches are more of the airline's problem. Like with so many things, smile, be polite and you have a better chance of the airline employee's discretion going your way.

Some airlines will agree to mail you a check for the damage, though again in all of our miles we have had the check option offered to us only once. Most times the airline will only be willing to take the damaged piece from you right there in the airport, have it repaired at their expense and later deliver it to your hotel. You will exit the airport with the contents of the damaged bag dumped into a cardboard box. The repair will usually consist of a patch sewn over a gash, or a new piece of hardware to replace a broken clasp.

For this to all work out for you, you'll need to be in one place locally long enough for the bag to be fixed and then delivered to you. Ask about how long the repair will take and decide if it is feasible for you to be around to take delivery of the fixed piece.

There is some justice available. You can now buy on-line stuff from other peoples' lost luggage. This web site collects things from the airlines and sells them to you (there is no mention of what to do if you recognize your own “lost” items for sale). Most everything is labeled “one only” and the selection changes constantly. Things are organized by category (Mens Clothing, Electronics, etc.), and the products range from the boring (boxer shorts, two, white color) to bizarre musical instruments and individual music CDs.

Help is also available on the Internet, though this leaves open the question of how you are going to access the ‘Net standing in the Katmandu arrival lounge. Assuming I guess that you have your laptop handy, both Northwest and Delta now have luggage tracking features on the Web.

To make this work, your bag must be on the ground somewhere (i.e., not in flight), and the final portion of your flight must have taken place on either of the two airlines. We have not tried this ourselves yet, but it sounds like a move in the right direction.

To learn more, contact Delta, 800-221-1212 or Northwest, 800-225-2525.