How to prevent this air travel nightmare

Unclaimed bags sit in baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman)

By the time you’ve arrived at baggage claim and your flight has left you bleary-eyed, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the luggage you grabbed from the carousel isn’t actually yours. It’s only when you’re at your hotel unzipping your suitcase that you realize you got the wrong bag.

Honest mix-ups happen, along with deliberate theft.

Of the 4.27 billion bags handled by the world’s airline carriers in 2019, 2.48 million were reported lost or stolen, damaged, or delayed, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology company that tracks baggage performance each year.

While that’s less than 1% of the time, the experience is maddening when it does happen. Here’s how to make your personal baggage stand out from the crowd and also prevent petty theft.

People wait near the baggage claim area at Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Prevent baggage mix-ups

Attach a distinguishing element to your suitcase like a monogram, colorful ribbon or eye-catching sticker. Whatever it is, make sure it’s easily describable and secured.

Don’t forget to remove old airline labels, so your bag doesn’t accidentally re-route to your previous destination. And always ask for a baggage receipt with a tracking number from the airline and keep it safe.

Prepare for the worst

Add your up-to-date contact details – name, address, cell phone, and email – to your bag, inside and out. Create an inventory of your contents in the event you need to file an insurance claim. An easy way to do this is to take pictures with your phone as you pack.

Put all valuables – like your camera, computer, keys, medication, wallet, insurance card, jewelry, and passport – in your carry-on. Make sure your confirmation numbers and itineraries are also on you. If an item is irreplaceable, don’t tempt fate and leave it at home.

Bags sit on a belt at Delta Air Lines baggage claim in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta. (Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman)

Prevent luggage theft

Sometimes luggage goes missing for nefarious reasons. Thieves are relentlessly resourceful and your luggage is always vulnerable, but you can take precautions.

Invest in luggage with a built-in TSA-approved lock. These can be opened only by you and a TSA agent with a master key. All baggage is screened before it’s brought onboard and if your lock isn’t TSA-approved, the TSA can break it to gain access. If an officer does need to open your bag, you’ll find a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” inside.

As a budget-friendly alternative, buy a TSA-approved lock or use zip ties to secure your luggage. Although not foolproof, the ties may thwart thieves from pilfering, but they can still be cut if the TSA needs to inspect the contents.

Avoid using expensive, trendy luggage. It screams to thieves that the contents are probably expensive.

(Photo: Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)

Use a luggage-wrapping service. Not only might that deter sticky-fingered individuals from rifling through your luggage, but the layers of plastic also protect a soft-shelled bag from gashes, cuts and the elements. It also helps keep a full bag from bursting open. You can find wrapping kiosks at airports, but don’t expect the TSA to rewrap a bag it has cut open.

A man getting his luggage wrapped by Secure Wrap at Miami International Airport. (Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Keep it with you. Pay for early boarding to ensure you’ll get space in the overhead compartments for your carry-on. If you’re among the final boarding groups and the overheads are full, your bag will be relegated to the gate check, increasing the chances of a mix-up at your final destination.

Stephanie is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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