How to handle the lost luggage

So there you are, watching the same three pieces of luggage go round and round the airport carousel and wondering if your bags are going to show up. Have you lost forever the handbag you bought for your niece, or that fetching sarong from Phuket or are you going to be left without a stitch of ski gear for the ski holiday you are about to start?

A staggering 29.4 million items of luggage were ‘mishandled’ – that’s delayed, damaged or stolen last year, according to the 2011 Baggage Report from air transport experts SITA. That’s 12 bags for every 1000 passengers.

The good news is that around 98% of all airline luggage does turn up when and where it’s supposed to, according to theInternational Air Transport Association. IATA also says that missing items usually turn up within 48 hours, thanks to a global tracking system called WorldTracer.

It’s a huge inconvenience if you are one of the unlucky ones, but there are ways to improve your chances of arriving at the airport at the same time as your luggage.

The best way to avoid lost baggage is to stick to a carry on, especially if you are only away for a few days. Pack a capsule wardrobe and rinse things out overnight or send them to the hotel laundry. Take travel-sized toiletries and toss the empty containers before you return home to make room for any souvenirs you’ve acquired. Another tip is to pack a change of clothes and everything you need to survive for the first 24 hours in your carry-on in the event your luggage gets delayed or lost.

If you must take a suitcase, travel with one bag rather than two to lessen the risk and make it the expandable kind to accommodate items bought abroad. Avoid the ubiquitous soft-sided black bag on wheels –it’s all too easy for some weary traveller to pick it up by mistake. If you can’t live without black, tie some bright ribbons to the handle or use colourful stickers or a coloured strap. Some airports offer a baggage wrapping service for extra security.

Make sure your contact details are on the outside and inside of the bag, though leave off your home address. Locks are a moot point – in the US, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) may break them open if they are not of an approved kind.

Take advantage of new technology and get a smart tag. Several companies including Back2you.com offer traceable tags using an online database for the price of an annual subscription which could pay for itself if you travel frequently.