How to Avoid Lost or Damaged Luggage, According to an Airport Worker
Step one: Be on time.
Checking a bag always feels like a roll of the dice, but if you haven't heard, it's even worse than usual right now. There's a real possibility that your bag could get lost or damaged, and no matter how adaptable you are, a luggage mishap can absolutely derail plans. You’ll surely have to spend some time on the phone with the airline, and if your bag's gone missing, you'll also sacrifice precious vacation hours as you shop for the necessities you can’t live without. The best way to sidestep this headache? Try not to let your luggage get lost or damaged in the first place—but of course that’s easier said than done.
There are two approaches you can take to decrease the likelihood that your belongings will (probably temporarily) vanish into the ether or take a beating en route. The first one is a no-brainer: Don’t check a bag. The second? Check a bag, but with precautions.
According to Zachary Phillips, a fitness coach who works part-time as a ramp agent at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, some bags are safer to check than others.
“The best luggage to travel with is the rectangular, hard plastic or metal suitcase with four spinner wheels,” he advises. “Get one that is quality because these wheels can break off some of the lesser quality cases.” This type of suitcase is easy for baggage handlers to roll and stack, which means your luggage should have a smoother, gentler journey. If investing in high-quality luggage makes you squeamish, you might want to go with a brand like Travelpro, which offers a warranty that covers some airline-inflicted damage to your bag.
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Shop checked luggage
Phillips suggests avoiding two-wheeled suitcases, since they don’t roll on their own and therefore “get heaved down the fuselage and the bag and contents are likely to get damaged.” He also says you should steer clear of backpacks, duffel bags, and “anything with a bunch of straps and zippers” because it’s quite common for travelers to forget to fully fasten these. Bags like these are flung from place to place because they don’t have wheels, and “stuff comes out of bags with outside pockets all the time.”
It can also help to have more than one luggage tag if you want your suitcase to be safety returned to you. “The label the airline sticks to the handle of bags is usually going to stay but paper and leather tags get ripped off regularly. I use a nice leather bag tag as well as the paper ones the airlines give out.”
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Luggage trackers like Apple AirTags can help you find your bag in a pinch, but be aware that these items only work if they stay with your bag. Phillips notes that these sometimes get ripped off in transit, so he wouldn’t necessarily recommend using them. Still, it's an option if you're really worried about something going wrong.
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Beyond shoppable solutions, Phillips advises that “getting your bag checked in early and having Priority status with the airline are the two best ways to ensure your bag gets on.” While there’s no reason to check your bag super early, you’ll want to get it checked more than half an hour before takeoff. Phillips notes that “usually, we load the bags that have been checked about 30 minutes prior to departure. If a bag comes in after that someone must run it out to the plane and that usually happens but not 100% of the time.”
The truth is, there’s no fool-proof way to avoid lost or damaged luggage on a flight. It’s best to keep really important items in your carry-on or personal item bag that you’ll bring on the plane with you, rather than letting them end up in the cargo hold. Always look into the carry-on and personal item requirements from your specific airline to ensure your bag will qualify. And know that if you do choose to carry your items onto the plane, they’re usually your responsibility, rather than the airline’s, so be careful with your own belongings.
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Shop carry-on bags
Oh, and if you do decide to check a bag? Consider flying with Allegiant.