Can you protect electronics in your checked bag? Not completely. Here’s what you can do
It had already been a long trip, and I was only two days into it. But the laptop and camera in my backpack seemed to get heavier with each dash through the airport.
Why not just dump them into my checked bag, my version of the electronics ban in effect for travelers coming to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa?
Never mind e-separation anxiety. Conventional wisdom says it’s not a good idea to pack anything of value in your checked bags, which have, from time to time, proved shopping marts for thieves.
In fact, here is what United’s Contract of Carriage (all the rules that will bore you to tears until you need them) says:
“UA shall not be liable for the loss of, damage to or delay in delivery of any of the following:” Letter G on the list is “computer hardware/software and electronic components/equipment”; Letter J is “electronic and mechanical items, including cell phones, electronic games, and other related items”; Letter X is “photographic/cinematographic/audio/video equipment, cameras and related items.”
United isn’t unusual in this regard. The message is clear: Airlines don’t want to pay for damage or loss of your electronics.
I ended up keeping my stuff with me, much to the dismay of my cranky back, but this does raise an issue with the electronics ban, whose extension to other airports is rumored, denied and reinvigorated with amazing regularity.
The issue: We could be forced to do exactly what the airlines don’t want us to do, and that’s put our devices in our checked bags.
The ban aside, anyone who is packing electronics in checked baggage should be aware that you aren’t totally protected if your e-stuff is damaged or missing.
Enter the insurance zone.
The insurance can come in two forms: travel insurance you buy and homeowner’s insurance. Let’s see how these might or might not help.
Many travel insurance companies will cover loss or damage, said Julie Loffredi, travel editor for InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison site.
But, she said in an email, “The amounts can vary significantly, and some plans do not offer coverage for laptops.”
If you’re carrying a top-of-the-line laptop or expensive camera equipment, you may not recoup much.
“While a policy may say baggage is covered up to a certain amount, the amount of coverage will almost always have a per-article limit, a specific amount they will cover for any one item,” Loffredi said.
“This will vary by policy but is usually around $200 per article.”
And here’s another issue, Loffredi added in a later interview: If you can recover money for your lost or missing item from another source, you go there first, then turn to travel insurance.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to expensive electronics, travelers have limited options,” she said. “Travel insurance can certainly help; however, if you are looking for extra protection, you may want to consider leveraging your … homeowner’s policy.”
Which brings us to …
Here’s some good news and some less so from Annmarie Camp, executive vice president, personal risk services, for Chubb, which calls itself the “world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurer” with “operations in 54 countries.”
The good news: “As a general statement, the theft of personal items would be covered,” she said in an email.
There’s a “but” coming, and here it is: “Since many homeowners carry deductibles of $1,000 or higher, there may be little, if anything, to recover from their home insurance policy if they are traveling with one or two items.”
But wait. There’s — sigh — more to consider:
“Does the home insurance policy have replacement cost or actual cash value for the personal property?” she asked.
“Replacement cost is the cost to repair or replace an item or property using new materials of ‘like kind and quality’ with no deductible for depreciation.
“Actual cash value is the cost to replace the property minus an allowance for depreciation.
“So, if the policy is actual cash value, the payout for a stolen 5-year-old computer may not be enough to get a comparable replacement model because of depreciation.”
Looking for a ray of sunshine? Don’t read on.
“Are any of the items used for business purposes?” Camp asked. “If so, these items may be subject to a significantly smaller limit, and policyholders may only receive a claim payment as low as $250 for business property while away from the home.
“Personal lines policies are designed for personal property, but some may include a small allowance for business property.”
OK, there is a small glimmer of hope.
“For specialty items, like a high-end camera or computer, a traveler could consider scheduling it as part of a valuable articles policy,” Camp wrote.
“These policies, which typically cover jewelry items for homeowners, are usually replacement cost policies without a deductible and generally provide broader coverage than a home insurance policy.”
So there’s that. But it takes some footwork before you get off the ground to ensure your stuff is covered.
What are your options?
There are a few besides insurance.
♦ Carry a “just for work or play” laptop that is functional but whose loss won’t ruin your life.
I have one of those; it’s a 7-year-old netbook that lets me write and edit but not much more than that.
Cautionary note: If I were to begin carrying it again, I would make sure it was backed up. The hard drive failed about four years ago; this occurred as it sat on my lap, not after a trip that involved an amusement park-like ride through baggage handling.
♦ Carry a “just for pictures” cellphone. I do that too. I bought a used Microsoft Lumia 640 cellphone for an international trip for about $50. It gave me the flexibility to buy a local SIM card and have connectivity that way and also to have a great camera.
I can hear our staff photographers snorting about the word “great,” which is relative. But for vacation needs, it worked well. In fact, the Lumia (a newer model than mine) is tops among Consumer Reports’ best smartphone cameras.
The magazine reports, “All of the top eight phones did very well in our still-image-quality tests, which evaluate resolution, dynamic range, color accuracy, and visual noise.”
♦ Carry nothing and fly first or business class. On a recent Air Canada Rouge flight, I wound up in first class and was offered an iPad (it was a coincidence; nothing to do with the e-ban). On a flight from Istanbul, Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly received a loaner laptop and free Wi-Fi from the airline; he had what he needed on a USB drive (“not-too-sensitive documents,” he noted).
♦ Buy a cellphone with the biggest screen you can and leave everything else behind. The cellphone is still allowed, but here’s the rub: If you’re of a certain age, you may despise trying to read the tiny print, even if you can enlarge it.
The answer may be a phablet — a phone/tablet hybrid. Consumer Reports shares its recommendations for the best in class, noting that about a third of phones sold have a 5½-inch or larger screen, according to industry analyst IDC.
♦ Detox by detaching from your e-dictions. There’s a reason this comes at the end of this column. It’s my least favorite idea because I am sure the world will stop spinning if I’m not connected.
And yet, the Department of Homeland Security may leave us little choice. In a world driven by constant connectivity, is it possible that no choice is the best choice?
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