Luggage claim can be a nerve-wrecking experience for travellers. Each year, millions of suitcases don’t arrive where they should. Most find their way to their proper destination within 24 hours, but some sit at airports for months waiting to be claimed, before their contents are finally sold, donated or dumped. What happens to travellers’ new cameras and dirty underwear depends on which airline carried the suitcase, and where in the world the plane landed.
At Canadian airports, each airline is responsible for its unclaimed baggage. Air Canada and WestJet both have customer service agents at each airport who try to reunite baggage with its owner. After several days, unclaimed bags are sent to the airline’s central baggage tracing office. Air Canada sends its bags to Montreal-Trudeau Airport after five days, and WestJet to its hangar in Calgary after three days.
Every airline handles the lost baggage issues according to their own policy, but the general guidelines are the same. For example if your baggage does not arrive from an Air Canada flight, you should check with an Air Canada baggage service agent in the arrivals area who will take immediate steps to find your bag and return it to you quickly. You’ll be asked to describe your baggage, and to provide detailed contact information. We’ll then give you a File Reference Number. (This number is required in all communications regarding your delayed baggage.) Once your file has been opened, you can review it on the WorldTracer web site. You can also contact the Air Canada Central Baggage Office, toll free, at 1-888-689-BAGS (2247).
Maximum compensation by airlines ranges from $250 to $1,650, but airlines are generally not liable for fragile or valuable items, including jewelry, business documents and electronics.
Agents at the central offices then open and search through the luggage for tags, business cards, personal documents, drug prescriptions or anything else that can help identify the owner. If agents can’t identify or contact the owner, descriptions of the bag and its contents are entered into a system called WorldTracer, which acts as a lost and found system for over 400 airlines and ground handling companies worldwide by matching bags with claims.
Travellers who still haven’t located their missing bags after a few months should probably give up hope. WorldTracer files expire after 90 days, and Transport Canada only requires airlines to hold on to loss claims for three months. After that, Air Canada and WestJet agents unpack the bag and donate usable items such as clothing to local charities and shelters, and dispose of the rest.
According to SITA, the Geneva-based organization that provides WorldTracer and other logistical technology to the air transport industry, 42.4 million checked bags were damaged, delayed or lost in 2007. That translates into 18.86 bags per 1,000 passengers. Most of them were eventually reunited with their owners, but three per cent never made it home. That’s only 0.06 per cent of all checked bags, but it amounts to 1.26 million bags worldwide. Mishandled baggage cost airlines and airports $3.8 billion last year.
What can you do to avoid your bags ending up in the “lost luggage carousel”?
- Arrive early at the airport to allow sufficient time for your baggage to load.
- Tie coloured ribbon or attach other unique markers to your bags to prevent mix-ups with other travellers.
- Place your name, itinerary and contact information inside your luggage to help airlines contact you if your bag is found (external tags can sometimes get lost or ripped).
- Keep a list on you of unique or personal items inside each bag to help agents identify yours among the others if it is found.
- If your baggage is missing on arrival, file a claim before leaving the airport. Airlines often require losses to be reported within a limited time period for compensation.
- Pack valuables and essential medications in carry-on bags, and purchase additional insurance for high-value checked baggage.
- Avoid taking connecting flights if you have a lot of baggage to check in. Transfers from one aircraft to another account for almost half the bags missing on arrival.
Source: CBC News; www.aircanada.com