As regular readers of Solo Traveler know, I rarely check baggage when I travel.
I only own a carry-on and I don't travel with anything else. Read Bare Minimum Packing for details.
However, my sister and I have taken my mom to the sun and I am basing myself in Key West, Florida for a couple of weeks. Traveling with her required a carry-on and checked baggage. She also has mobility problems so we were traveling with a walker while she was in her wheelchair. The walker had to be gate-checked. It has been an eye-opening experience in terms of planning, packing and negotiating the airport – especially with restrictions on checked luggage getting tighter all the time. Here's what I learned along with photos from my early morning walks in the beautiful town of Key West.
Checked Baggage Tips
- Book all connecting flights with the same airline if possible. If you are with one airline from beginning to end there is less chance for any complaint about lost or damaged luggage to be tossed back and forth between carriers.
- Book flights, cruise and tours through the same company if possible. This makes your provider responsible for coordinating everything – from plane to transfer to cruise ship and back again for both you and your luggage.
- Know the baggage policies of your airline. Here's a link to a baggage fee charge that covers most airlines internationally.
- Pack critical items in a carry-on. Whether it's medication or running shoes, anything that you absolutely must have should be brought in a carry-on rather than checked.
- Count your luggage claim tickets and use a passport wallet. Check that you've been given the correct number of luggage claim tickets and keep them with all key documents such as itineraries and your passport in one dedicated wallet so that they don't go astray. I have a Coach passport wallet that was a gift from a friend however there are many less expensive passport wallets that are just as functional.
- Be aware of what you pack – use a TSA approved lock. There are inspections after you've checked your bags. If you've packed herbs and spices or anything else that trigger the dogs' attention your bags may be opened for a closer look. These locks let the TSA do so without damaging your bag. Be aware that such an inspection could also slow your bag's transit to your destination.
- Make your luggage distinctive. By having something distinctive on your bag it will be easier for you to claim and more difficult for someone to wander off with it. You must also have your name and address on the outside of your bag.
- Place a business card or other identification inside. If your luggage goes astray and the flight tag gets lost you'll have one more means of finding your bag if you have identification inside.
- Arrive at the airport early. To ensure that your luggage travels on the same plane as you, go to the airport at the time recommended by your carrier.
- Pick up is at your final destination. There are occasions when a flight between two major cities with a stop in a smaller once is less expensive than a flight directly to the smaller one. People are taking advantage of this by booking the long flight and getting off at the stopover. Be aware that if you do this, your checked baggage will go on to the final destination.
- If you have a problem go to Elliott.org. Chris Elliott is a consumer advocate who has focused on the travel industry for years. He has recently branched out beyond travel but his knowledge is excellent in this area. He maintains an excellent list of travel company contacts on his site and, if that doesn't help, you can post a problem in a forum.