Where oh where is my luggage?

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Bob flew to Dallas on a business trip last week. His flew to Denver. Somewhere between check-in and takeoff, Bob's bags made a wrong turn and ended upon on another flight. He didn't see them again for two days! Though most of the time airlines manage to get the right luggage on the right flight, around one-half of one percent of the more than two billion bags checked each year are lost or delayed. Here's how you can make sure your luggage doesn't take an unscheduled trip.

Identify your bags. When the luggage from two hundred passengers starts rolling off the carousel, you begin to realize just how many of them really do look alike. Make it quick and easy to identify your bag by using a brightly colored strap or tag that helps it stand out against the crowd. Best bet: a Velcro strap or band wrapped around the entire bag.

Check the destination tag. Airline agents attach a destination tag to each piece of luggage. The tag displays the three-letter identification code of the destination airport. Make sure your destination and that of your luggage is the same. Never leave old tags on your bags. If you don't get a claim check from the agent for each bag you check, you may have trouble claiming them later. Know where your bags are checked to and make sure it's your final destination and not just an intermediate stop.

Select flights that minimize baggage disruption. Luggage is most likely to go astray when you change airplanes or airlines during your trip. Minimize loading and unloading of your bags by choosing non- stop flights or through flights (one or more stops, but no change of aircraft.)

Use only carry-on bags. The best way to ensure that your bags will arrive safely is to tote them with you. Airlines limit the amount of carry-on baggage to two pieces, usually no larger than 21x14x9 on U.S. domestic flights. The weight, size, and number limits of checked bags can vary with the airline, fare class, and country of origin. Purses, cameras, coats, and garment bags usually don't count as part of the carry-on limit.

If, despite these precautions, your luggage doesn't arrive when you do, report the loss to the airline customer service desk. Make sure that the airline fills out the appropriate forms and provides you with a copy, as well as a copy of the airline's "Conditions of Contract" and "Contract of Carriage." Keep a record of the date, time, flight numbers, dollar amount of the loss, and names of any airline personnel you speak with. Ask if the airline will provide you with compensation until your bags are returned. By the way, if you paid for your ticket with a credit card, check with the card company to see if you're eligible for lost luggage insurance. And take heart: most lost bags are returned to their owners within 24 hours.

Got flight frustration? You haven't read Laura Quarantiello's book "Air-Ways: The Insider's Guide to Air Travel" ? everything you need to know about the ups and downs of getting there by air. More info: http://www.tiare.com/airways.htm

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