Dude… Where’s My Bag? How to Get an ETA on Your Lost Luggage

Not every business traveler racks up air miles, speeds through customs with panache or spends months on the road. In fact, many of us travel casually – once or twice a year for work. No gold status. No upgrade vouchers. Just a carry-on, a ticket and maybe some nerves. Sound familiar? This series is designed to share our travel-savvy expertise with tips just for you – the Infrequent Flier.

They call it the “baggage vortex.” After all the preparation for the business trip, long lines through airport security and an even longer flight, you’re finally standing at the baggage claim where it seems the carousel is happily rotating with everyone else’s bag… but yours.

The likelihood your stuff will be lost in the baggage vortex for more than 48 hours is pretty low, but it happens from time to time. It’s a frustrating experience, but knowing the procedures, being assertive with the report and maintaining a friendly rapport with airline staff when it happens will get you far – even when your bags are far, far away.

Losing your checked bag is frustrating, time-consuming and just plain annoying, but the good news is around 98 percent of luggage eventually shows up.

Unfortunately, that eventuality isn’t very helpful when meeting resources, handouts, or the swag for tomorrow’s trade show are tucked away the now-lost suitcase. So what should you do when it appears your stuff has disappeared into the abyss?


Be assertive and push paper


Start by talking with the airline representative in the baggage claim area to see if he or she can pinpoint the location of your bag. Because checked bags are all electronically tracked these days, figuring out where in the world the lost luggage is lurking should be easy.

When it isn’t, don’t leave the airport until you’ve filled out a report. The missing baggage reports will ask for an itemized list of contents and a delivery address. Be warned, the maximum liability airlines carry for lost contents is $3,300 – that doesn’t cover grandma’s jewels and or that expensive camera. Bring those things in your carry-on, or better yet – leave the good china at home.

Hold the line when dealing with baggage claim reps, especially if you’ve paid a fee to check your bags. As of 2011, airlines are federally required to refund your fees if your stuff slips into the abyss.


Call your lifeline – or visit the hotel gift shop


If you’re in a pinch but have a little time before the convention, call your home office and see if you can have those vital materials sent via express mail to the hotel. If it’s going to take a couple of days to get your things delivered, discover the hotel gift shop or find the nearest mall to replenish “necessities.”

Your company’s travel policy might include a caveat on toothbrushes, underwear or laundry services in cases of lost luggage. Check-in with your travel administrator to see if some of your basics may be covered in the interim – a delayed bag might be a good excuse to do a bit of shopping in your off-time.


Keep calm and carry-on


In rare instances, you might never see your bag again. Keep calling, emailing or writing letters. Reference the baggage claim number in all correspondences and become your own advocate with the airlines, aided by consumer groups.

Of course, the best way to avoid losing your luggage is to avoid checking it altogether. Consider shipping your business materials in advance and packing as lightly as possible. With all the new regulations concerning carry-on bags, you may be limited by how much you can stuff in the overhead bin, but at least you’ll have an eye on your personal belongings the entire trip.

Curious about how much your bags cost and updates in other ancillary travel fees, like hotel and rental car charges? The GBTA Handbook has you covered.

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