The bad news: there’s no 100% guaranteed way to ensure your luggage makes it to your destination. The good news: there are things you can do to reduce the risk of your luggage being lost or delayed. Here are some things that can make a lost bag a little less likely.
You need time to make your way through security and eventually onto your plane. So does your bag. Every airline lists the latest cutoff time for checking a bag, which is often about 45-60 minutes before takeoff, but with long lines at the airport and baggage handlers in short supply, it’s wise to give your bag even more than that. Otherwise it might not make it on the plane.
Check your baggage tag
Mistakes happen. Sometimes an agent keys in the wrong destination. Before your bag heads down the conveyor belt destined for who-knows-where, check to make sure the baggage tag lists the correct airport.
Fly nonstop or plan a longer connection
Every month the US Department of Transportation releases stats on luggage mishandling. The airlines that regularly top the list of least likely to lose your luggage: Allegiant, Hawaiian, Southwest, Spirit, and Frontier. (Note this data only covers domestic flights.) The reason these budget carriers have a better record than airlines like Delta or United is that they generally run point-to-point routes with fewer connections. Fewer connections mean fewer points at which a bag could get lost or delayed.
So when you can, book a direct flight, and if you have a layover (particularly at one of the European airports experiencing the most issues right now, including Amsterdam, London, and Lisbon), book one on the longer side. If it’s a struggle for you to make it across the airport to your next flight in the time allowed, it’ll probably be a struggle for your bag as well.
Board early and use the right bag to avoid gate checking
Even if you plan to travel carry-on only, you could find yourself forced to check a bag if the overhead bins are full, or if the airline deems your bag too big or too heavy to carry on. Double check the size and weight limits to ensure your bag is within them. Overhead bins rarely seem to fill up on most international flights, thanks to bigger bins, but on domestic flights, try to board as early as possible so that there’s space for your bag. Even boarding at the start of the last group can make a difference. If you really want to ensure you aren’t forced to gate check your carryon, make sure it’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
Make it easy to get your bag back, or to file a claim
Imagine you’re a baggage handler trying to find a “medium-sized black bag” or even “a blue Away bag” in a sea of similar bags. Personalizing your bag with a colorful bag tag or ribbon can help a handler more easily determine which bag is yours. And make sure you have your updated contact info not only on your bag tag but also on a piece of paper inside your bag (just in case your bag tag gets removed). A small GPS tracker like an Apple AirTag (which works with an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac) can also let you see exactly where your bag is at all times.
And, if you must travel with anything valuable in your bag, make sure it’s documented so you can get reimbursed if the bag is lost for good. Before you hand your bag over to the airline agent, take a photo of anything valuable inside.