As regular readers of Solo Traveler know, I rarely check baggage when I travel.
I've just returned from a trip that required more options in terms of clothes and footwear than usual. I was on an Arctic expedition with Adventure Canada and, yes, some cold weather and waterproof gear was needed. A carry-on bag was not enough.
The flights were charters and only contained the people and luggage going on the ship, so concern about my checked baggage going astray was not a big deal. However, it made me think of a post that I had written about planning and packing checked baggage way back in 2015. It was time for an update. So, after researching and speaking to people who check baggage all the time, here's an updated list of tips.
If you're looking for carry-on baggage tips, read Bare Minimum Packing for details.
Want to navigate the airport alone and with ease, read How to Get Through an Airport by Yourself
Checked Baggage Tips
- Book all connecting flights with the same airline, if possible. If you are with one airline from departure to arrival at your final destination, there is less chance to lose luggage and you won't have multiple carriers bouncing your complaint back and forth.
- 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.
- Leave lots of time between flights. If you have to change planes to get to your destination and you've crossed a border, you will likely have to collect your bag and go through security again before getting on your next flight. This can take more time than you might imagine, especially in major airports. Book flights with lots of time in between.
- Know the baggage policies of your airline. All airlines have limits for checked baggage in terms of weight and number of items, but they are not all the same. Here's a link to a baggage fee chart that covers most airlines internationally. Don't take the weight of your bag close to the line as scales at the airport are not that accurate. They may be quite different than your luggage scale or your home scale. (I weigh myself and then myself with my bag to determine its weight.)
- Pack critical items in a carry-on bag. Whether it's medication or running shoes, anything that you absolutely must have should be brought in a carry-on rather than checked. That includes a change of underwear and socks.
- Label your bags inside and out. Put your name and itinerary inside each bag. Put a name tag on the outside of each bag. Do this for your carry-on bag as well in case you are forced to check it at the gate.
- Count your luggage claim tickets and use a passport wallet. Check that you've been given the correct number of luggage claim tickets and that they are for the correct destination. Keep them with all key documents, such as itineraries and your passport, in a dedicated passport wallet so that they don't go astray.
- Don't pack hazardous items. There are quite a number of items or materials, some of them not so obvious, that may pose a risk if taken on an aircraft. Visit AirSafe.com for its list of items restricted or banned from aircraft for more details.
- 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 triggers 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.
- 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 one 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 question in a forum to get advice.