May 21, 2012

Lost luggage. Getting stuck on the tarmac for hours. Unexpected flight changes. Missed connections.

lost luggage

These airline disasters have ruined vacations and business trips for many travelers. While you can’t avoid every airline nightmare, you can take steps to minimize the chance of one occurring and maximize your chance for a good night’s sleep at your destination.

Lost luggage. To avoid losing luggage, whenever possible stick with carry-on. More and more passengers are limiting themselves to carry-on to save time and money. Most airlines now charge $20 and up for a checked bag – each way.

If you must check a bag, make certain your itinerary is inside the bag. Identify your bag with your contact information both inside and outside the bag.

Add an identifying ribbon or scarf to the outside of the bag to make it easily identifiable. Many bags look alike, and it’s easy for another passenger to inadvertently pick up the wrong bag, not noting the error until miles away in a hotel room. Do this for larger carry-ons as well, in case space is limited and you’re asked to check your bag at the gate.

Flight delays. Before leaving for the airport, check the status of your flight. Don’t accept a reservations agent’s assurance that the flight is “scheduled” to leave on time. Instead, ask for the ship number (tail number) of the aircraft assigned to your flight.

If the reservations agent doesn’t know, ask the agent to call the operations office to get the number. Then ask for the status of the ship number. If the plane is running late, you can wait to make that drive to the airport, or rebook your flight.

If your domestic flight is delayed for any reason other than weather or factors outside an airline’s control (such as a strike), check your contract. If you didn’t get one online, you can ask for one at check-in, and the airline must provide it.

Some contracts state that the airline must transfer you to another carrier if the second airline has available seats and can get you to your destination more quickly. Know your rights, and exercise them.

Canceled flights. Airlines sometimes cancel flights due to repair, crew or weather issues. While nothing can be done about the weather, there are ways to minimize a canceled flight – and the hassle should one occur.

If your flight is canceled because of factors outside the airline’s control, reserve an early morning flight, giving the airline a full day to recover from any delays. And before purchasing your ticket, visit Flightstat, where you can see a flight’s statistical average cancellation rate.

Getting bumped. To avoid being bumped, check yourself in via the airline’s website as soon as permissible, usually 24 hours prior to departure. Early check-in increases your chances of making it onto a flight.

Missing connections. Don’t book connecting flights too close together. If the first flight is delayed, it’s easy to miss the second flight. The best ways to avoid missing a flight (and ensure your luggage doesn’t miss it either): Arrive early, and don’t check your luggage.

This article was originally posted on May 21, 2012 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at