Securing Your Luggage

There's an old joke where a man walks up to the check-in counter and asks if the airline can send his first bag to Cleveland, the 2nd bag to New York, and the 3rd bag to Kansas City. The clerk responds, "I can't do that, you're heading to Los Angeles." The man replies, "Why not? You did it last week!"

The joke underscores a very valid concern for travelers - just what is the best way to secure luggage?

Luggage Tags
First and foremost, be sure to label your luggage both inside and out. Even if you plan to carry-on, be sure to have a luggage tag on every piece, as you may be forced to check a bag you had hoped to carry on, or may inadvertently leave a bag in the taxi or hotel. Place a copy of your contact information inside each bag in case the outer tags (especially the paper-and-string versions supplied by the airlines) are damaged and disappear. While a luggage tag is no guarantee you'll be reunited with lost luggage, lack of one will guarantee you're not!

Be sure that your address is updated and correct (not the address you lived at five years ago or the person from whom you borrowed the luggage). Many people prefer to list their work address to deter thieves. It's easy to slip a business card into a luggage tag to insure that prying eyes don't know your home address. It is also a good idea to include an itinerary, which can help a lost bag "find you" during your travels. Magellan's Retriever Luggage Tags offer a pouch to insert your itinerary, and invite baggage agents (in eight languages) to remove the itinerary if needed in order to reunite you and your bag while you're still on your journey.

Minimize the Chance for Lost Luggage
Always arrive in plenty of time for your flight. Remember, even though you may have time to make the gate, your luggage may take longer to wind its way through the underground conveyor system to your plane.

Before a check-in agent stows your bag, make sure the destination tag lists the correct flight number (this should be on your itinerary) and the three-character destination airport code. If you don't know the airport code, you can look it up before you leave at a travel web site such as Expedia or Travelocity, or ask the airline personnel. (As an example, don't assume that if you see a "LOS" tag placed on your luggage, your bag is going to Los Angeles. "LOS is the airport code for Lagos, Nigeria!)

Make sure that you have a claim check stub for each bag. You may need this stub to remove your bags from the baggage claim area at your destination, or to file a claim if your bags are lost. Hang on to your claim checks until you have confirmed that none of the contents are missing or damaged, and you have left the airport.

Also, be sure that your luggage can make the trip. Loose latches, holes patched with duct tape, zippers that are bursting at the seams - all have a tendency to let loose with the standard (a.k.a. rough!) handling to which checked luggage is subjected. If your bags are on their last legs, replace them. When using hard sided luggage, it is always wise to use an external luggage strap to ensure that your bags stay securely closed. You may giggle a bit when you see a suitcase with its contents spewed out as it revolves around the carousel until you realize it is yours.

These days, most luggage makers follow Henry Ford's maxim of "any color you want as long as it is black." Personalize your black rolling bag with ribbons, neon-colored tape, or other markings so a bleary-eyed, over-tired fellow traveler won't claim your similar-looking bag and walk off with it. Magellan's offers a variety of brightly colored straps, tags and handle wraps to make sure your bags stand out.

Lastly, be nice to the check-in clerk or SkyCap. If you've had a bad day or trouble with the airline, you can be sure that the person behind the counter is not at fault. While we are not suggesting that being rude to the baggage checkers will cause them to intentionally reroute your bag, they may take that extra step to double-check for the correct routing if you've been pleasant.

Lock Your Luggage
Locking your luggage became much more challenging in January 2003 when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) entered a new phase of luggage inspection at the nation's airports. If their new, high-powered X-ray machines detected luggage contents that could not be identified, the TSA would open and inspect the bag even if it meant breaking locks. They would then close the bag (after inserting a note that they had made the inspection), and seal the bag with a plastic tie. Within a week or two, after many locks had been cut off, they began to advise passengers "Please do not lock your bags" in order to reduce the number of complaints they were receiving about the broken locks.

Magellan's responded to the discomfort of travelers who disliked checking in unlocked luggage by offering low-cost, easy-to-break plastic seals that would deter the casual luggage pilferer and serve notice to the passenger that someone had forced open their bags. (We had actually been offering the removable PrivaSeal since the early 1990s.) Although these easy-to-replace seals provide peace of mind to travelers, they do not actually lock luggage, since, by design, these seals are easily broken. What the industry needed, ideally, was a solid padlock that would provide as much security as travelers had in the days prior to the end of 2002, but that could somehow allow the TSA access to the contents of luggage being carried by all the airlines in the US. In the spring of 2003, a company called Travel Sentry responded to this challenge with a new Travel Sentry Lock.

Travel Sentry's concept was to create a standard of lock design that allows the traveler to lock his/her bag, while letting the TSA open and re-close the lock by means of special access tools. If a lock is designed and manufactured to this standard, it is allowed to sport the unique "Travel Sentry Certified" logo.

Stashing Your Luggage for the Day
When check out time at the Inn is 11:00 am and your flight leaves at 7:00 pm., the last thing you wish to do is lug your bags around all day. You could try to stash your bags in a storage locker at a bus station, train depot or airport, although many such places have removed their public lockers in the interest of security. Another option is to a find full-service hotel and check the bags with the bell captain. For a dollar to two per bag, they'll be happy store your luggage in their luggage room. (When storing bags out of your sight anywhere, it's wise to play it safe and always secure your zippers with a removable plastic seal.) If you're at a convention, perhaps another attendee that is staying over an extra day will allow you to store your bags in their room (just make sure you can find them when its time to head out). If the airport is close by, you might even be able to grab a hotel's free airport shuttle, check your bags in a couple of hours early and catch the shuttle back into town.

Out of Sight Luggage
The first rule of luggage security is to never let your bags out of your sight. This is much easier said than done when traveling by train (where the baggage section is at the end of your coach or several cars down the train in a baggage car) or when using a rest room (there's just not room in that stall for you and your bag). A small cable lock is great for discouraging spontaneous thievery, allowing you to secure your bags to the metal rack in your train compartment when you go to the dining car or lock your luggage together when you go into the airport duty-free store. Another nifty device is the Angel Alert. While originally designed to help parents keep their wayward toddlers in tow, this ingenious device is a great way to keep track of your brief case or back pack. It includes a receiver and a transmitter. Keep the receiver in your pocket and drop the transmitter in your bag. If the transmitter moves more than 15 feet away from the receiver, an alarm will sound--an invaluable safeguard should you set a bag down at the coffee shop and attempt to leave without it.

The odds are that every traveler will be separated from his or her bag at some time in the future. But with a little extra preparation and reasonable precautions, you and your luggage can reduce these odds, and look forward to enjoying many happy travels together.

Travel Advice

Flight Delays     

Getting a Good Flight's Sleep

Avoiding Jet Lag 

Cardiovascular Disease and Travel 

Insect Protection 

Eight Nifty Cell Phone Travel Tips 

Packing for the Unexpected

Securing Your Luggage 

Seven Days and One Carry-on Bag

The Five Commandments of Packing 

Lost Luggage 

Avoiding Pickpockets 

Hotel Security for the Traveler 

Security Tips for the Female Traveler 

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