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Lost Luggage – a losing battle?

Lost Luggage – a losing battle?

A recent poll conducted by the insurance company InsureandGo suggests around 200,000 bags are lost or misplaced each month at UK airports. Meanwhile globally, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 42 million pieces of luggage are mishandled. Presumably the debacle at Heathrow’s T5 has not helped these statistics and lost bags are becoming a significant issue for travellers. T5 has been so poor in fact, that some insurance companies are now adding exclusions to their policies if you’re planning on flying from T5, so compensation will be even harder to claim.

As such, you should read the terms of your insurance policy carefully since you may well find that luggage and personal items inside are not covered. For example, I’ve just bought a yearly travel policy with, coincidentally, Insureandgo who offered very reasonable rates. But the wording of the policy (which I read just prior to starting this piece thereby ignoring my own advice) is a bit vague: I think my luggage is covered, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

What I am certain of however, is that the total compensation pay-out which insurance companies offer for a lost piece of luggage tends to be comparatively low, so a decent set of clothes (not mine obviously) could well exceed the limit. Additionally, individual items within luggage are usually limited to a few hundred pounds – in my policy £200 – so do not pack cameras, laptops and other valuables into checked-in bags. Indeed, on closer inspection of my policy, they say they will not cover “Loss, theft or damage to valuables not carried in [my] hand luggage while [I am] travelling.” This presumably means I can only put complete rubbish in my suitcase – which is fine, because my clothes are.

At this point, you might be thinking you can claim compensation from the airline instead. Under the terms of the Warsaw Convention you can, but not if the airline can show they took all reasonable measures to secure the arrival of your bag – though how they would do this is unclear. The compensation is around £15 per kilo of luggage so in a lightly packed bag, you might not even get the cost of the case back.

Policies differ amongst airlines: I can think of one couple I know who have funded a couple of holidays with the hundreds of pounds British Airways have given to them after losing their bags for days on end. On the other hand, getting compensation out of one particular budget airline is, in my experience, well-nigh impossible – an expression springs to mind involving blood and stones.

So how can you avoid the lost luggage scenario? You can’t. The answer is, don’t check your luggage in. This really is the only solution though with heavy restrictions on the size and weight of your take-on bags, you will end up travelling pretty light. Clearly this is not an option for a two week holiday, so checking your bags in, unfortunately is a “case” of entering the luggage lottery and hoping you don’t lose.

According to IATA calculations, lost bags cost the airline industry around US$3.8 billion per year. Even with today’s exchange rates, this is an extremely sizeable sum and airlines are keen to cut this cost. Unsurprisingly, a techie solution seems to be the answer and companies like Siemens has been trialling Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) technology. This has been around for years, but until recently has not been a commercially viable solution on the scale that is needed for baggage handling.

Essentially Siemens describe them as “an integrated radio chip with antenna, microprocessor and a memory to record all the relevant information”. Each bag would be tagged with one of these just as barcode strips are added now. The difference is that line of sight or optical contact is not needed to identify the luggage for routing purposes, so an awkwardly placed tag would not result in a failure of identification. Tests have shown this system to be 99.9 per cent effective and for example RFID technology has been used in Hong Kong International Airport for several years now with great success. Until this system is adopted globally though, the fiasco witnessed at T5 over recent weeks will continue – with lost luggage figures spiking during the summer holidays.

I do have one final idea though: a number of small auction houses round the UK sell luggage after the airports have given up trying to find the correct owners. This morally dubious practice means that potentially you could find your own lost luggage and then suffer the ignominy of having to buy back what was yours in the first place. The chances of finding your bag are slim in the extreme of course and if you were unfortunate enough to lose your things in the first place, it’s optimistic to think your luck is going to change.

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