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Lost Luggage

It's sickening if you are victim to the problem of "lost luggage", and you may feel almost as if you are bereaved, even if you have some good travel insurance. The thing is, what you've got in your luggage is usually something special to you, and some of it could be irreplaceable.

Part of the trouble is that airlines (and to a lesser extent other travel companies) seem to have almost a cavalier attitude to lost luggage, as if it doesn't really matter, and they can fob you off with a "hard luck" letter, or maybe at a push, a minor monetary compensation.

You can even notice the stuff-you-and-your-property attitude in announcements at airports: "Any unattended luggage will be removed AND DESTROYED". Well, you shouldn't leave luggage unattended, but nevertheless the airport hasn't got the right to steal your luggage, and destroying it is insulting to the idea of personal property. (And in case you're thinking they have an excuse with the usual anti-terrorist nonsense, no, they haven't. For one thing, terrorists are unlikely to target an airport in preference to a plane, and besides, anything suspected of being a bomb can be taken and put in a sandbagged bunker, until it either explodes or is reclaimed by the passenger).

The mystery is, though, how an airline can actually LOSE your baggage during a flight. This seems to be beyond any reasonable belief. Traditionally it's always been a maxim of airline security that a passenger and their luggage should be on the same flight. The idea, though seeming rather oldfashioned now, is that no-one's going to put a bomb in their luggage on a plane and then go flying on that plane, as they'd be blown up, and of course no terrorists are suicidal, are they?! Yet, somehow, passengers and their luggage often do not end up on the same flight, and/or the passenger's luggage does not end up at the luggage carousel at the destination airport for the passenger to collect it. Somehow it has just "disappeared" in transit.

Well I don't think that is rational. Luggage DOES NOT just disappear, and it is ridiculous to assume it can somehow be misplaced. It's also a poor euphemism to declare lost luggage to be "uncollected", which is the terminology sometimes used by airlines. Indeed, the passenger was there to collect it; it's just that the luggage wasn't there to collect.

I heard one passenger say on the television documentary Dispatches, something to the effect that she'd like to be able to go to a police station and report the airline for STEALING her case.

Well obviously the luggage has ended up somewhere, and it's in the possession of airport staff somewhere somehow. The question then is, how can it be LOST? Baggage has labels on, often with the names and addresses of the passengers who are the rightful owners of the stuff. Sometimes even the phone numbers of the people are on the baggage. So, it should, in theory at least, be an elementary matter to contact the people and tell them "we've found your luggage".

Another thing about this is, considering all the ritual humiliation and in-the-name-of-security nonsense that passengers are put through, there really is no excuse for failing to be able to identify any piece of baggage. It would be as preposterous as suggesting that somehow a percentage of passengers managed to get lost on planes without their passports.

If a cynical view were to be expressed about this, it could be that the losing of baggage is somehow a cost-cutting exercise by airlines, in that somehow a small saving of costs can be made by just "losing" people's stuff. The cost of matching up lost luggage with passengers, saved by just declaring it "lost" and having computers that delete the record after 90 days. This is not acceptable.

There have been stories of passengers who have fought against airline bureaucracy and have at last managed to gain access to warehouses where "lost luggage" is stowed in less-than-ideal conditions, and they have consistently reported such things as "there were loads of cases all piled up in heaps, and most of them had names and addresses on". Think about this; if you found a case with a name and address on, how difficult would it be for you to get an envelope and copy that address onto it, stick a stamp on it, and put a letter in saying "We've found your luggage. Where would you like us to post it?" etc.

Another thing, astonishing as it may seem, is that there are airlines who consider the solution to what to do with "lost luggage", is to SELL IT! They auction it off, and people buy other people's luggage and wheel it away. It's almost like a law of "finders keepers".

In a survey in 2008, even the most careful airlines were still losing 0.3% of passengers' luggage, which is still too much, and the worst airline for luggage-losing was British Airways, who were said to lose a staggering "1 in 40" of their passengers' luggage. However, most airlines in the world were losing luggage at an astonishing rate, so it's not just one airline, it's a problem in general.

So, what's to be done about it?

Here are a few ideas:

1. If you're carrying data, keep the main copy with you and don't trust it to anyone else to look after.

2. Always leave a note inside your hold luggage with your name and address on, so if it's found it will be relatively easy for the staff to contact you (if they can be bothered to do that).

3. Have travel insurance, and make sure it covers the value of the stuff you are carrying, apart from irreplaceable items of course.

4. If your luggage goes "missing", make a big fuss. We are no longer living in the bad old days when companies could rest assured in their arrogance that people's opinions did not matter as they couldn't be heard. These days you can get a website, and your story will be seen around the world.

5. Don't be in a hurry. In some ways it doesn't matter how long it takes to be reunited with your stuff, as long as you get it back eventually. This should be the guarantee.

To summarise: The only way luggage on a plane can be truly lost is if the plane crashes, and the passengers are lost along with the luggage. That is extraordinarily unlikely to happen. Air travel is safe. It's so safe that even if you lived your entire life flying on a plane, you're more likely to die of old age than of crashing. In contrast, "lost luggage" is a common problem and something which needs to be dealt with.

Also see Lost Data and how to recover it.