After years of travel and what loved ones have labelled paranoia, it was bound to happen. Waiting anxiously by the whirring belt, I watched polka-dot suitcases make mocking rounds. My companions, exhausted after 16 hours in the air, were sympathetic and relieved. They were all thinking: at least it wasn’t me.
Any moment now, I told myself cursing the happy vacationers busy collecting their things. What about my things? (Necessities, all.)
For millions of travellers a year, it happens. Their missing bags stolen, sold in blind auctions, or gone forever without any explanation. Today it was my turn, in a crowded Indian airport, as far from home as I’d ever been.
So, while the airline hunted haphazardly for my belongings – and asked whether I would rather have $200 – I found myself wandering the sweltering streets of Delhi in an orange dress and a pair of blister-producing ballet flats. Equipped with my carry-on (contents: eyeglasses, a paperback, an ancient tube of Chapstick), I was forced to “manage”.
Day two, good news! The bag had been found! Bad news: it is still sitting in Toronto. Did it miss me as much as I missed it?
But then, a twist. I survived. By day three, I was secretly enjoying myself. What to wear? Hello, orange. Make-up today? Not an option. With almost nothing, I found better things: a new understanding of necessity, respite from my obsession with stuff, stuff and more stuff, and a new appreciation for what does matter (the Taj Mahal), when my bag finally made its way back to me.
That’s right, my jam-packed blue suitcase resurfaced – on day four – and I suddenly had a rainbow of ten dresses to choose from. I decided to wear my orange dress once more, for good luck. It worked: nothing went missing on my trek home.
If the contents of your baggage are worth more than the outlay and excess, invest in baggage insurance.
Snap a picture of your suitcase’s contents, both laid out on your bed and when packed, in case you need to prove its contents to insurers.
Plan for delays by packing essentials – everything you need for 24 hours – in your carry-on. Medications, ID and glasses are musts; a swimsuit, sandals and basic toiletries can’t hurt.
On the plane, wear comfy layers that you might mix and match later, if necessary.
Arrive at the airport in good time. If you barely make the flight, the same will go for your luggage – if you’re lucky.
Pick brightly coloured suitcases or attach an identifier (ribbons on the handle work well) to stand out in a sea of black bags. Attach ID with contact info to the inside and outside.
Make sure to get a baggage claim sticker for all bags checked.
LOST LUGGAGE: THE FACTS
According to the 2013 SITA Baggage Report, 26 million checked bags went missing last year on international flights – that’s nine unlucky flyers out of every 1000.
A consolation: more than 95% of lost bags are returned to their owners within a few days.
In many countries, if no claims are made within 90 days, suitcase contents are donated to charity.
The strangest unclaimed baggage sales at Scottsboro, Alabama, “the lost luggage capital of the world”, include a Barbie doll stuffed with $500 in rolled notes, a suit of armour and a live rattlesnake.
Though the number of travellers is up, comparative rates of mishandled bags are down 56% in North America and 43% in Asia and Europe in the past six years. Thank better baggage-handling technology for that.