Lost luggage lessons: Will you change the way you pack?


Many of you are probably planning a summer vacation right now.

Do you know all the rules that cover lost luggage?

The airlines and the federal government have established rules that put limits on the airlines liability. That means, if you do lose your luggage, you might never be able to replace some items.

Two local women shared their stories to help you learn more about the lost luggage rules. Detroit resident Connie Gaines traveled to Los Angeles to celebrate her aunt's 90th birthday. It was supposed to be a joyous celebration, but it turned bittersweet after Gaines arrived and found out Spirit Airlines had lost her luggage.

"I had nothing but what I had on my back and my purse in my hand," Gaines told Ruth to the Rescue.

Diane Majestic of Garden City traveled to Florida on January 9th to be with her very ill mother, who passed away after Majestic arrived.

Spirit lost her luggage as well. "Two days I was washing out underwear, basically. Finally, I went and bought makeup and everything to get me through," Majestic said.

Majestic and Gaines filed a claim with the airline, but are not happy with how their cases have been handled. After losing their luggage, they learned a lot about how this frustrating issue is handled by Spirit, and other carriers as well.

First, the Department of Transportation has set a liability of $3,400 for items lost with your luggage. If you have items worth more than $3,400 on your bag, the airlines are not required to make you whole. You should also consider that liability limit when packing your suitcase.

Second, Spirit Airlines and all the major carriers Ruth to the Rescue contacted (United, Delta, Southwest, American) will require some proof of ownership for the items you lost. That proof is often receipts, but can be credit card statements, bank statements, or some other documents proving you actually own the items that have vanished.

Majestic was shocked when a customer service representative told her about the policy. "I asked her, 'Do you keep your receipts?' And of course, no response. Like who has receipts for a pair of jeans that you've had for six months," Majestic said.

In an email, Spirit defended its policy for requiring receipts, stating many luggage claims turn out to be fraudulent. Further, the airline says fighting fraud protect all consumer by keeping their air fares lower.

Even if you do have proof of ownership, be prepared for the airlines to consider depreciation when they determine your compensation. If your suit, or your dress is five years old, you're not likely to receive the amount you originally paid.

Preventing Lost Luggage Heartbreak

David Fishman of the Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield says lost luggage is not a huge problem for his customer, but you should know the rules in case your luggage is lost. "If you just give a little preventative care, then sometimes it goes a long way," Fishman told Ruth to the Rescue.

When your packing, you should also know that the airlines all have a long list of items they will never reimburse you for, including jewelry, perfume, eyeglasses, cash, medicine, and electronics.

Fishman says you should gather receipts for the items your do pack, but you can go a step further to protect your items. He even suggests you can take photographs of everything you put into your suitcase and keep a list of the items. If you have receipts, photos, and a detailed list, you'll be much better prepared if your bag goes missing.

If Your Luggage Is Lost

Working with Fishman, Ruth to the Rescue has devised this list of steps you can take if your luggage is lost, or before you leave for your trip.

1. Immediately file a claim at the airport.

2. Keep a list of any items you need to purchase and save the receipts. Most airlines will reimburse you for reasonable expenses for items that are necessary for you to enjoy your vacation.

3. When dealing with customer service be nice! Don't be afraid to seek sympathy. You are the injured party. Getting angry can be counterproductive.

4. If you are stonewalled by customer service, be sure to ask for the representative's name. Then, hang up and call back, hoping you reach a different service representative. Fishman says sometimes the level of service and sympathy can vary. If you're still not happy, don't be afraid to ask for a supervisor.

5. Look for other coverage options. If you purchase travel insurance, many polices will cover lost luggage. You can also file a claim with your homeowner's insurance.

6. Some credit cards also offer coverage for lost luggage of you purchase the plane tickets with that card. Check with your credit card company to see if that's a benefit connected to your card, and be sure you understand all the rules and regulations.

7. If you travel with a family member or partner and have more than one checked bag, it is smart to cross pack. Pack some of your items in your companions luggage and some your companions things in your luggage. That way if one bag disappears, you will each have a few items to use during your vacation.

8. Check and update your luggage tag as often as needed and include some identification inside your bag as well.

9. Mark specific items in your bag with your name and address.

10. When you purchase luggage look for bold colors and patterns, or any feature that will allow you to easily identify your luggage.