Wish you were here, suitcase

How likely is it that my luggage will get lost?

It's hard to believe, but the odds are slim that you will not get your luggage. In October 2007, U.S. carriers combined had an average of 5.3 reports of lost, mishandled or damaged luggage per 1,000 passengers.

How can I improve the odds that my luggage will arrive at my destination?

Arrive at the airport early enough to give baggage crews and screeners time to process your bags. Also, put your name and cellphone number on a tag on the outside and inside of the bags. Place a copy of your travel itinerary inside. Know the three-letter airport abbreviation for your destination, and make sure the airline worker puts a tag with the correct abbreviation on your bags. Remove any old airline tags.

What about connecting flights?

The chances that luggage will go astray increase when you have to change planes. Avoid scheduling tight connections, and leave at least two hours between flights. If you have to run through the terminal to catch your connecting flight, your bags may not make it.

What happens when my luggage doesn't get to my destination?

An agent at the baggage office will try to track your luggage using a computer, searching for the electronically scanned tag attached to your bag. If that doesn't work, airline workers will physically look for the bag around the terminal. You will be given a claim number and a phone number to call to get updates on your luggage.

How can I help the airlines find my bag?

Take a photo of your luggage and give a copy to the agent at the lost luggage office.

If my bags are lost, how do I request reimbursement for the contents?

Before you leave the airport, fill out a lost luggage form from your airline. Make a copy of the form before turning it in to an airline representative. If, after a time, the airlines declare your luggage lost, you must fill out a claim with more detailed information about the contents.

How can I make sure I get reimbursed for everything I've lost?

Before your trip, make a list of the exact contents of the bag, including brand names and clothes sizes to better identify your property.

How much will the airlines reimburse me for lost luggage?

Airlines can invoke a cap of $3,000 for lost luggage per traveler for domestic and international flights. If you think the contents of your luggage are worth more, you might be able to buy "excess valuation," which will increase the carrier's liability.

What if I find my checked bags have been opened?

The Transportation Security Administration is required to leave a note in your luggage if its agents have opened it. If there is no note, check to see whether anything is missing and, if so, file a claim with the airline and the TSA.

How do I keep someone else from accidentally taking my bag off the luggage carousel?

Any colored band, ribbon or sticker on your luggage will help differentiate it from the others. Also, make sure you keep the luggage tag that corresponds with your bags.

Do I check a musical instrument or carry it onboard?

If the instrument meets the size limits of your airline, you can carry it onboard. If the instrument is larger, you must either check the instrument or pay for an extra seat. If the instrument is delicate, make sure it is in a hard-shell case.

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