Summer 'baggage meltdown' on the way?

With most experts predicting summer flights will be about 10 percent more crowded this year than last, there's more to worry about than long lines and scarce elbow room. Your baggage may be in danger, too.

USA Today reports that some in Congress are concerned we're facing a "baggage meltdown" this summer due to understaffed airlines and TSA shortcomings. Last year about 3.6 million pieces of luggage were mishandled, up nearly 25 percent over 2004. The year ahead looks even more dire: "They have fewer personnel to deal with even more baggage," says Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee.

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Not surprisingly, airline and TSA officials disagree with Mica's forecast. They may have a point, though. The Department of Transportation reports the rate of lost bags has actually declined through the first three months of 2006, and the TSA says it plans to hire additional part-time screeners to help with the summer crunch.

Regardless of the numbers, it seems safe to assume that summer travel this year will be at best only marginally better than last, and possibly even worse. So, time to dust off those annual summer travel tips and get ready to do battle with the usual culprits: crowded planes, high fares, and extra-long lines at the airport Starbucks.

(Oh, and the best tip of all? Squeeze as much as you can into that carry-on bag.)

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