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What to Do When the Airlines Lose Something You Need Right Away
By Amy Ziff,
Travelocity's Editor-At-Large

Although airlines handle millions of suitcases every day without a mishap, the system isn't without its faults. Although the chances of having your bags misdirected or lost are small, if you travel a lot for business, sooner or later you may have to deal with this irksome situation.

So what do you do when you've got an important presentation in the morning and your luggage never made it to the baggage carousel?

  • For starters, don't panic. Most luggage is only delayed, not lost permanently. File a missing-luggage form--even if the airline agent insists that your bags will turn up on the next flight. Don't leave without a copy of the report and the airline's toll-free claims-department phone number.
  • Ask about the airline's immediate reimbursement policy. Airlines usually have leisure travelers buy a new wardrobe at their own expense and then file for reimbursement. This process can take weeks or months. However, if you need to make a major purchase immediately, the airline may advance you some cash.

    For example, if you arrive at night and the suitcase containing the $500 suit you planned to wear the next day for an important presentation doesn't show up, the airline may give you money to replace it in time for your meeting.

  • If your bag is missing or significantly delayed, you'll probably need to buy more than just a suit. Many airlines offer a daily stipend in the neighborhood of $25-$50 to buy things like toiletries. The airline may also have toiletry kits to give out--be sure to ask, because not all airline officials will be forthcoming about freebies.
  • Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to lessen the chances your valuables will be lost is to carry them with you. Although many airlines are tightening carry-on restrictions, many airlines will still allow business passengers to carry two items, especially if they do not check any other bags.
  • If you do check baggage, be sure to check in as early as possible to make sure both you and your luggage make the flight. Try to schedule a reasonable amount of time--at least 45 minutes--between connecting flights.
  • Consider buying additional insurance--without it, airlines are only liable for the first $1,250 worth of lost items on domestic flights (and even less internationally). Additional coverage typically costs $1 for every $100 in value declared over $1,250.

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