It is the "silly season" for travel plans. You're stressed, your extended family is stressed and baggage handlers and Transportation Security Administration agents are definitely stressed because of holiday crowds.
More than 6 million people flew on commercial airliners in 2010, and statistics show one in 150 of those people reported lost or misdirected luggage. The last thing you want is to have Aunt Bertha's long-awaited gift of Wisconsin cheese end up in Sacramento.
There are easy steps to take to prevent losing luggage during holiday travel, or at least to get it back quickly.
We talked to travel experts who shared 10 essential tips to help you keep tabs on your luggage during this busy holiday season.
Don't check your bags
>This may seem obvious and very hard to do when you have a spouse and two kids in tow, along with all of those holiday gifts (
unwrapped, of course
), but there are alternatives, says
, a travel expert.
"Ship your bags using FedEx, UPS or the U.S. postal system, but be sure it's ground. Do it five days ahead of time and if you are shipping them to a hotel call to let them know, find out if there are any holding fees and be sure to write 'hotel guest' and your arrival date on the label."
If you're ordering gifts online, you can even do the same with those purchases and have them sent directly to your destination. Of course, you could also avoid the extra baggage of gifts and just open presents at home ahead of time, says Kara Williams, co-owner of
"We've done this twice when we celebrated Christmas with extended family at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Kids didn't miss present opening because they'd already done it."
Avoid short connections
Allison Danziger, director of
, says planning for safe baggage arrival begins with the booking process.
"When booking flights, avoid short connections whenever possible. If you think you'll have trouble making your connection, there's a chance your bag may also have trouble making it onto your connecting flight," Danziger says.
Make sure your bag stands out
Our travel experts agree that having a bag that stands out will help you spot it easily (so you get on your way more quickly) and that other people won't mistake it for theirs. Marcia Miller, founder of
in Portland, Ore., says you can do it without having to buy a whole new luggage set. "Mark your bag with something to distinguish it from other bags which may look similar - a tassel or stencil," she says.
You may think that those old destination tags and "fragile" stickers will help your bag stand out, but there are side effects that can work against you. Miller reminds travelers to clean off all of the old tags and stickers, since they can confuse busy baggage handlers and TSA agents, possibly resulting in misrouted luggage.
Make sure ID tags are up to date
Miller also advises making sure that ID tags on your luggage are current with the contact information where you will be staying. If your luggage is lost, you want to make it as easy as possible for the airline staff to get it back to you.
>>The Busiest Flying Day of the Year
Know your airport codes
In addition to cleaning tags from your luggage and making sure your luggage has your proper contact information on it, Miller says it's important to make sure the bag is tagged with the proper destination airport code when you check in, in case the attendant makes a mistake. Two that are sometimes confused, she says, are MCO (Orlando's airport) and MCI, which is Kansas City International.
Pretty much everyone has some kind of picture-taking device when they travel, so put that cellphone camera to use and take a photo of your luggage before sending it into the belly of the plane, Miller says. It will come in handy if your bag is lost and you want to ensure it's found in good time.
Print your itinerary
Danziger of TripAdvisor recommends travelers print out their itineraries and put a copy somewhere in the bag, ideally in a front pocket. "If your bag misses a connection, the airport staff can easily find out where the bag is supposed to go," she says.
Don't carry suspect items
Miller of You Go Girls Travel tells the story of someone who was carrying DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide) in their bag. The chemical is legal and some people use it for medicinal purposes, but it caused some problems at the airport.
"I am sure the dogs sniffed it and it was pulled from the line. Seventeen days later when it united with her it was minus the DMSO," Miller says.
And remember, while snow globes are permitted in checked baggage, according to the TSA Web site they will get you checked and will be confiscated if you try to carry them on.
Finally, Williams says, do not dawdle after your flight lands. Many airports are like full-blown shopping malls these days, but avoid the urge to shop while your luggage is taking a spin or two on the baggage carousel.
"You can likely stop off at the restroom before you head down to baggage claim before your bags even start going round and round on the conveyor belt," Williams says, "but you don't want your bag to just be hanging out anywhere unattended, or going around the belt looking all lonely and prime for snatching by an ill-willed someone."
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