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Woman Standing on Deception Island in Antarctica
Jamie Ditaranto

How to Survive in Antarctica After an Airline Loses Your Luggage

SmarterTravel

There are a lot of common-sense reasons not to check a bag. Going carry-on only is one way to make sure you pack light and avoid paying extra fees, but personally, the reason I hardly ever check my luggage is even simpler—I loathe the luggage carousel. Waiting at baggage claim is the perfect storm of anxiety and boredom, so avoiding those 10 to 20 minutes of disgruntlement is worth becoming the kind of traveler that can pack everything she needs in a backpack. However, on some trips, like my upcoming cruise to Antarctica, you need to make exceptions.

Embarking on a Hurtigruten expedition cruise to a place literally frozen at the bottom of the world (where average summer temperatures hover around 32 degrees Fahrenheit), I’d need to carry two weeks of sweaters and thermal wear, plus snow pants and a winter jacket. My backpack wasn’t going to cut it, so I’d have no choice to check a bag.

Packed and ready for adventure, I dropped off my bag in New York and flew to Buenos Aires on Air Canada, with a short layover in Toronto. At the carousel in Buenos Aires, I watched the circling suitcases, attentive, impatient, and bored. After 30 minutes without my luggage, anxiety kicked into high gear. I walked cautiously towards the help desk, telling myself that maybe it had just fallen off the luggage truck, but knowing intuitively that my luggage was not in Argentina. The agent confirmed it: After I had spent months meticulously coordinating everything I would need to stay protected from the frigid climate of Antarctica, my suitcase was in Canada.

 

What Are My Options?

“We can fly your bag from to Toronto to Santiago tonight and from Santiago to Buenos Aires Sunday morning, and then we can fly it on another airline to Ushuaia, so you should be able to pick it up on Monday morning,” the agent told me.

“But I’m going on a cruise and it leaves tomorrow morning!” There was no hiding my desperation.

“And where is your cruise to? Maybe we can send it to the next port.”

“Antarctica.” I knew there wouldn’t be any port farther south than Ushuaia, the ship’s departure point.

“Oh. I’m very sorry. You can pick it up after your cruise.”

“That’s two weeks from now! What am I supposed to wear?” I looked down again at my carry-on bag and realized I had not packed even one pair of extra underwear.

The representative informed me that Air Canada’s lost luggage policy is to reimburse $50 per day for necessities—for up to two days. All I had was what I wore on the plane, plus a spare sweater I packed in my carry-on at the last minute. To the agent, I insisted that I’d need way more than $100 to get me through the trip. I was told not to worry and that I should save my receipts, explain my situation when I filed the claim, and ask for the full amount even if it exceeded the $100 limit in the airline’s policy. With no choice but to take this advice in good faith, I set out on my unplanned and panicked shopping spree in Buenos Aires.

I checked in at the hotel, screamed into the pillow, and set out down Avenida Florida, Buenos Aires’ main shopping strip. Walking around in my snow boots (I had decided to wear them on the plane to save space in my luggage) on a spring day in Argentina, my first priority was a pair of sneakers that I wore out of the store. Then I found a small shop where I could buy 10 cheap pairs of underwear and hopped into an Adidas store for two pairs of leggings and a sports bra. I also stopped in a pharmacy to buy a few toiletries I had packed in my checked luggage like face cleanser and moisturizer. Additionally, I bought some laundry detergent in case I needed to wash my limited wardrobe at any point of the trip.

Fortunately, the Hurtigruten team was able to equip me with additional clothes, both from the ship’s onboard store and from the crew’s supply. Although my ship-wear outfits were severely lacking in style—I sported the same gift shop T-shirt almost every day—I was well equipped for my on-land excursions. By the end of the trip, after all the amazing things I had seen and done, the drama of losing my luggage had faded away. At the Ushuaia airport on my way back home, I was reunited with my luggage without issue.

I waited until I was home before filing my claim. I had saved every single receipt from my shopping spree in Buenos Aires and entered in each item individually into Air Canada’s baggage claim portal with what I paid for the item in Argentinean pesos, which totaled $234 USD. Three days after I filed the claim, Air Canada contacted me to confirm it would reimburse me in full. Two weeks later, I received the check. The story was over, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think back to everything I could have done differently.

If you’re planning on cruising anywhere as remote as Antarctica, where there will be no access to stores or any kind of commerce or civilization, here’s how to prepare in case the airline loses your luggage and what to do if it does happen to you.

 

When I claimed my luggage in Ushuaia, it had been plastic wrapped and labeled with my information.Jamie Ditaranto

Do Not Take Your Checked Luggage for Granted

Pack as though your checked luggage won’t make it. Put an extra change of clothes and all your irreplaceable necessities in your carry-on. Whether you’ll have to wait two days for your luggage or two weeks, you don’t want to take any chances with things that will be difficult to replace.

Minimize Connecting Flights

Although my home airport is in New York, I flew through Canada with a layover in Toronto, which is where my luggage got left behind. Because my luggage was in Canada and not the U.S., Air Canada informed me that it couldn’t just put my luggage on a different airline. No other airline flies direct from Canada to Buenos Aires, and when I asked if Air Canada could send it to the U.S., an agent told me that would risk the bag getting even more lost. Had I flown direct, I would have decreased the likelihood of my bag getting left behind, and if I had spent my layover in a U.S. airport, I might have had a better chance of getting it to Buenos Aires on another American airline in time for my cruise.

Arrive Earlier Than You Think

If I had a few more days in Buenos Aires before the ship left, I would have been able to pick up my luggage. If your schedule can handle it, give yourself an extra two days before your cruise in your starting destination. You’ll be happy to have the buffer time should you or your luggage get delayed on the way.

If It Happens, Let Your Cruise Operator Know

I wasn’t the first person to lose my luggage before a trip to Antarctica, and I certainly won’t be the last. These things happen from time to time, and many cruise lines are prepared to deal with the occasional luggage mishap. Make a call to the cruise line’s customer service and explain the situation. They may be able to make recommendations on where to purchase clothes or, as was my situation with Hurtigruten, to lend you gear from the crew stock.

Wait Until You Get Home to File Your Claim

Don’t file a claim until you have your luggage back in your possession. Wait until the end of your trip, just in case you need to purchase anything else.

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Jamie Ditaranto traveled to Antarctica as a guest of Hurtigruten. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

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