Prevent lost luggage.
Over the first three months of 2022, 6.5 out of every 1,000 checked bags on U.S. airlines were “mishandled,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)—up 12 percent from 2019, the Wall Street Journal reports. So what can you do to help ensure your bags arrive at your destination when you do?
According to the experts, we did well by traveling nonstop. “Connections add lost luggage risk,” says Gary Leff, who cofounded InsideFlyer and runs the popular View From the Wing blog. But we got dinged because we couldn’t fit our bags in the cabin with us. “The best way to prevent lost luggage is to fly carry-on only,” says Matt Kepnes, the travel blogger better known as Nomadic Matt. “While it may be impossible for some—such as those traveling with children—the best way to prevent lost luggage is to avoid giving it to the airlines in the first place.” (Carrying on helps you save on baggage fees too.) Consider investing in a backpack or carry-on roller bag that is designed to help you fit a full vacation’s worth of gear into the overhead bin.
If you must check bags, don’t pack anything crucial in them (e.g. passports or medication), label them with your full contact information, and arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure for a domestic flight and three hours before for an international trip. Overlooking that latter point was likely our undoing. Though we made it through the security line and onto our flight with time to spare, we checked our bags right at the one-hour cutoff. If TSA agents don’t have enough time to screen your bags before your flight departs, they’ll place them on a later flight. And, if your outcome is like ours, your bags may be off on a trip of their own, landing in completely different destination cities than the one you chose for your vacation.
Which is why you should always keep the tracking piece of your bag tag. To go a step further, Kepnes advises placing an AirTag in each bag that you check, so that you can track them yourself, no matter where they end up. Finally, “make sure that your luggage stands out to avoid someone accidentally taking yours,” recommends AAA Travel product marketer Roberta Christman.
Sidestep cancellations and delays.
During 2022’s peak summer travel season, 2.6 percent of flights across the U.S. were canceled, according to data from AirHelp, a passenger rights company.
To avoid flight cancellations, delays, and missed connections, advanced planning is crucial. “Book flights that leave earlier in the day, since early flights are less likely to be impacted by delays,” says Leff. “Don’t book short connections, such as less than an hour. And book your travel to arrive sooner than you actually need to get to the destination, so that later flights can still get you there in time in case of delay or cancellation.”
Airports tend to be less busy on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, Leff adds, so book for those days, if possible. Then, check in online instead of at the airport, as lines can be long at airline counters. You may also be able to check your bags curbside or at self-tagging kiosks.
“Airline on-time records are posted online, so check in advance,” Christman says. “But you can’t avoid inclement weather, mechanical issues, or staffing challenges. So if it’s important that you don’t miss an event that you’re traveling for, plan to leave the day before.”
According to Kepnes, the best way to avoid frustrating rebooking hassles after a delayed or canceled flight is to book directly with the airline: “That way, if something happens, they’re obligated to find you a new flight and you don't need to communicate through a third party. Additionally, use the website AirHelp.com [for flights in the EU] if you’re delayed, as you may be entitled to compensation.”