If luggage could talk, it would tell a pretty interesting story this summer.
Mishandled luggage incidents in the U.S. were up 60% from April 2021 through March 2022, compared to the year-earlier period; in Europe, insurers are reporting a 30% spike in lost luggage claims compared to summer 2019. But those statistics fail to fully paint a picture of the chaos that has descended on airports. More telling are the images of thousands of bags piled up unclaimed in airport storehouses, or airlines filling planes not with humans but with suitcases that needed to be reunited with their owners.
And that’s just the bags. There are roughly 20,000 delayed and canceled flights every day, not to mention hours-long security and immigration queues, missed connections, and inflated prices.
“This is a time where none of the usual logic-and certainly none of the usual travel hacks-apply,” explains Michael Holtz, founder and chief executive officer of SmartFlyer, a luxury travel agency. “I wish there were such thing as a silver bullet, but there just isn’t.”
This doesn’t mean travelers are powerless in the face of mounting obstacles. Here are seven tips to get through your next trip unscathed-or as close to it as possible.
Know how luggage protection works. Travel insurance policies can cover lost bags, but usually there’s no payout if a suitcase eventually turns
- up. This means that claims can sit around gathering dust for so long that you’ve already returned from your trip-perhaps with a new wardrobe.
What’s more, policies often require travelers to maintain itemized lists of what was packed, including receipts to prove the costs of the lost belongings. It’s a time-consuming exercise that will discourage most claims.
One company that travel agents are currently recommending is Blue Ribbon Bags, which guarantees up to $2,000 in reimbursement for each piece of luggage that’s gone missing for at least four days. The amounts depend on the exact policy; travelers can insure bags for $5, $7.50, or $10 each, netting respective payouts of $1,000, $1,500, or $2,000.
The policy’s only fine print is that travelers must file a report of missing luggage with their airline within 24 hours and collect the correct documentation to prove and process the claim.
And while you can insure luggage at any time until departure-even covering bags that are checked at the gate in the last moments-you can’t decide to make the investment in the middle of a connection that already appears to be going haywire.
- Ship your luggage or rent locally. Not everyone can manage to carry all the luggage they need on board, Holtz concedes. If you’re traveling with a gaggle of kids to a wedding, or are moving across international lines, consider using a specialized shipping service such as Luggage Forward.
It is not cheap, however, and requires planning.
Let’s use a real-life situation as an example: Some friends of mine who were trying to get their two toddlers through a tight connection from New York to Harare, Zimbabwe, via Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport, would have had to pay $694 for each of their standard-size suitcases and $389 for each small bag-and pack them all 12 days before departure.
That’s a steep price, if perhaps less than the cost to their sanity of wondering whether irreplaceable wedding attire would get lost in transit. (Miraculously, it didn’t, though their au pair’s anti-malarial drugs remain stuck in a suitcase in Edinburgh.)
A more conventional trip may be less expensive. Shipping bags from New York to Amsterdam-where Schiphol airport is so burdened that it has at times stopped accepting checked luggage on certain connecting flights-costs $359 for a standard suitcase that will arrive within seven business days.
There’s also the option of renting what you need wherever you are going, rather than taking it with you.
Rent the Runway is one convenient, well-known option, and it has recently started partnering with hotels.
BabyQuip is more specialized but perhaps even more useful: It will deliver bulky and such hard-to-pack items as cribs, strollers, diapers, and other infant-related gear to your hotel or Airbnb, so that you don’t have to waste your precious overhead compartment space on that portable pack ‘n’ play. It serves 900 destinations around the world, but works a bit like home-sharing sites; the gear is loaned by local businesses that list with the website, which makes availability spotty, especially outside the U.S..
- Don’t expect an airtag to save you. Many travelers have resorted to putting tracking devices, such as AirTags, in their luggage as a precautionary measure should they become separated from their belongings. Brooke Lavery, a partner with bespoke travel consultancy Local Foreigner says that they have at times proved helpful.
“Someone on my team had boarded [her flight] and realized, via her AirTags, that her bag was not onboard the plane,” Lavery tells Bloomberg. When the passenger alerted the flight attendant, the airline was able to address its mistake and get the bag properly loaded on the cargo hold. “If you have the technology to solve the problem, it can result in an expedited solution,” she concludes.
That may have been a best-case scenario. “It doesn’t help to know where your luggage is if you can’t get to it,” explains Holtz, outlining a much more common outcome. “The only reliable way to land with your belongings is to carry them on.”
One way to make do with less stuff, he says, is to rely on hotel laundry services. “Every four- or five-star hotel will have laundry options,” he notes.
- Invest in airport greeters. Lavery’s company has starting requiring all of its Europe-bound travelers to sign up for airport VIP services. Paul Tumpowsky, founder of digital travel agency Skylark, also schedules them for his clients as soon as possible after buying their flights. “These services need to be booked well in advance these days,” he says, citing demand, “so we just get it done as soon as possible.”
Pricing has surged for these services, too. In Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, for instance, greeters have been in especially high demand. It used to be common to pay $250 or so per group, but one company we priced out was charging $475 to welcome an arriving family of four; a second company had no availability remaining for the rest of this summer. It was asking $769 for two people in September.
Still, the cost can be worthwhile. In one success story, Lavery says a VIP airport representative in Athens took the client “to the front of a 250-person queue of passengers logging baggage claims. The rep knew everyone at the desk, was able to go behind the counter, file a claim on her behalf, and expedite it.” The bag arrived two days later.
They can also offer back-door entry to airport lounges. Even if you’re sitting in business class and have already guaranteed access, your designated lounge may be full; the one next door may not be. And airport greeters will also offer expedited access through security, customs, and immigration, where staff shortages and undertrained hires are causing hours-long delays that can cause you to miss connections.
- Book morning flights. About those overcrowded lounges: In U.S. hubs, at least, lounges are at their worst in evenings, when passengers are getting ready to depart on overnight transatlantic flights. It’s one reason travel advisers are recommending that you book daytime and morning flights. (Those flights also tend to have better on-time performance.)
You’re less likely to hit backed-up airport operations-those long lines-earlier in the day. “It’s the same concept as not driving to the Hamptons at 3 p.m. on a Friday,” Holtz jokes.
- Use your credit card perks. Some of the airport conveniences you’re willing to pay for may already be taken care of by your credit card-assuming that you have premium plastic in your wallet such as American Express Platinum and Centurion cards or Chase Sapphire and Reserve cards.
Before you leave, see if your card includes a free signup for Clear, the biometric airport security service that’s often much faster than TSA PreCheck. Even if your card doesn’t cover the $189 annual fee, you may want to consider joining the program. Registration is practically instantaneous: On a recent flight I took from Newark Airport, Clear agents were processing applications from passengers stuck in a longer-than-typical PreCheck line.
The same is true for Priority Pass, a network of independent airport lounges with 1,300 locations around the world. Its lounges are often smaller and less plush than, say, the American Express Centurion ones, but they’re relatively under-utilized. If your card offers free access, that could be worth considering.
- Reroute (or reschedule) your travels. Tumpowsky says airlines have been giving agents such as him special dispensation, in some circumstances, to proactively change schedules that look doubtful. Some carriers, for instance, have been letting him reroute clients from distressed airports, or have offered additional flexibility in making changes to itineraries with tight connections. It’s one reason you may consider booking any remaining summer travel through an agent.
Even if it costs a fee, Lavery recommends that you consider rebooking to avoid the most overburdened airports. The online travel agency Hopper helped Bloomberg crunch data as to which airports in Europe are struggling most with delays and which are relatively painless. Lavery adds that “wherever possible, we are avoiding Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, and Heathrow.”
Seek any possible way to avoid a connecting flight. “If you must travel somewhere that requires a connection, consider only flying on one of the legs,” advises Holtz. In other words: Nix your second flight and rent a car or take the train the rest of the way. “Think of it as disaster prevention,” he says, warning, “this is not the time to be scheduling connecting flights.”
And trust that the summer travel rush will lighten up soon. “It’ll all get better after Labor Day,” Holtz promises.