Your luggage: A world traveler

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 11, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, car rental, cruise, disaster, Erica Silverstein, hotel, insurance, vacation package.

Sometimes, your luggage travels farther than you do. Here, Debbie B. tells us how she ended up with no luggage on a trip to the Galapagos.

"When we arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador—no luggage! We filed a report, and were told it would be arriving on the same flight the next day and would be delivered to our hotel.

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"At 7:30 p.m. the next day, we received a call saying one piece of luggage had arrived, but it was not going to be delivered. We would have to pick it up at the airport. The other three pieces had not been located. Since we were leaving for the Galapagos at 6:30 a.m. the next morning for five days, we needed clothing. The front desk hired us a private driver who spoke no English to take us to the Mall del Sol and the airport. Our driver was under the assumption the mall closed at 10 p.m. but this being a Sunday it closed at 8 p.m. At 7:45 p.m. we were racing down the streets of Guayaquil screaming at the driver, "Rapido!" As we dashed into the mall, the individual shops were locking up except for one, Tommy Hilfiger. We ran around the store like crazy people for about 30 minutes grabbing the necessities to carry us through the next five days. When a credit card was presented for payment, it was rejected, and we all begin to freak out. Another card was presented and thank goodness it went through this time. We spent $818 for 20 items.

"Clothing in hand, we headed off to the airport to claim the one piece of luggage. But to claim luggage you must go through special security and hand over your driver's license to get a badge. The problem was when we arrived in Guayaquil, one in our party lost her mini-wallet with her and her husband's driver's licenses. They were denied access, which meant we had to run back and forth between the customer service area three floors up and the security desk obtaining information and signatures. The airline refused to provide us with anyone who spoke the least bit of English, so it took quite a while to communicate our issues. We were then told our other luggage would be arriving at midnight on another airline.

"At 11:30 p.m. our hotel again arranges for a private driver to take us back to the airport. Again, no luggage but we are asked if we would like to check out the storage area just in case. After walking all over the airport for 30 minutes we are shown a 10-square-foot room and no luggage. We arrive back at the hotel at 2 a.m. with a 5 a.m. wake-up call.

"Our luggage was finally located six days later, after we returned from the Galapagos. It went to Amsterdam instead of South America! And when one suitcase was opened, everything inside was soaking wet."

What to do

It's unfathomable to me why airlines can't keep better track of checked luggage, but your bags run the risk of getting lost each time you fly. You should always pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag, and if you have items that are essential for your trip (such as boots for a hiking trip), you should always try to take those on the plane with you, as well.

Debbie and her friends were smart to buy new clothes, rather than hope the airline would come up with their bags before they left for the Galapagos. If your bags get lost and you urgently need to buy clothes, try to get the airline to agree to reimburse you. Make sure you get this promise in writing so you have concrete evidence when you go to seek compensation. The airlines don't technically owe you anything, and their contracts of carriage are vaguely worded on the subject of delayed or lost bags.

Better yet, when you're going on long trips with multiple components such as Debbie's South America vacation, be sure to book trip insurance, which will reimburse you for lost luggage if your airline won't do it. Just to be sure to read the fine print to find out what exactly you're entitled to claim.

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