(Recently posted in the Independent)
You check your shiny new suitcase onto a flight. Hours later an unrecognisable, battered old version of it is spat out onto the luggage carousel. What happened to it while you were snacking on peanuts and watching action movies? And is there anything you can do to protect it?
If anyone can advise, it’s Tricia Davis. As an airline employee she’s heard many stories from heartbroken travellers about their damaged luggage. But she promises not all luggage handlers are brutes and says there are things you can do to help your bags fare better.
“In my nine years of working for an airline, I have handled thousands of bags,” says Tricia. “I have also been a compulsive traveller my entire life and am always on the lookout for great bags. Your suitcase should protect the items inside and in order to do that, it needs to survive the journey itself.”
Here are Tricia’s top tips on everything from bag material to wheel configuration and how to claim for damaged luggage.
“My first suggestion is always to hit up charity shops. People don’t want to store suitcases and often donate them after their travels, I have purchased quite a few hundred dollar bags for less than five dollars. Some high end bags do come with a warranty but only if the bag is defective, not poorly designed.
“I’m not sure why suitcase companies switched to four spinner wheels from two recessed rollerblade wheels, but it was a bad idea. Look in any cargo pit and you’ll see the spinner wheel graveyard. When your bag is pulled from the top of the stack, it comes crashing down on those wheels. Always get recessed wheels whenever possible. Unless it’s for your carry-on, when recessed wheels allow you to bring your bag sideways down the aisle.”
“Plastic suitcases were not created with travel in mind. Unless you’re travelling in a Lear jet or a limo, your plastic bag may not make it to your destination intact. Plastic cases crack in cold weather, they get crushed under the weight of all the other bags in the cargo pit, and they slide off the stack and land on the tarmac.
“Fabric bags are certainly more durable. They also tend to still come with recessed wheels. My favourite travel bag is a two compartment rolling duffle bag, very sturdy and you can squeeze a lot in. And they are survivors if you need to drag them up or down a flight of stairs.”
“Yes you need them. If your bag came with one, fill it out. Name, phone number and city. Not your street address or your email. And your mobile number, not your home or office number. If your bag didn’t come with a name tag, buy one and put one of the airport ones on it too. Also, put one on your carry-on, especially if you have a black roller bag.”
Some high end bags come with a fitted clear plastic cover. There are also some cool stretchy covers, like a T-shirt for your suitcase. These are helpful for a few reasons. They protect your bag from dirt and grease from carts and belts, keep zip pulls from being snagged and ripped off and can customise your bag with a fun design.”
“Make sure all your zips are closed, even if nothing is in the pocket. If not, the open pocket can get hooked on something in the conveyer system which can rip the front off.”
“Loose and unhooked straps are a disaster waiting to happen. If your bag has a separate shoulder strap, take it off and put it inside your bag. You want as few reasons as possible for your bag to get caught on something and shredded.”
Old barcode labels
“When you arrive at your destination, remove all the barcode stickers from your bag. Ticket agents don’t always have the time to do it and your bag travels by barcode. So if your bag doesn’t arrive at your current destination, the airline may not have lost your bag, it could have gone to one of your previous destinations.”
“I suggest a multicoloured fabric bag. If you do choose a solid, stick to darker ones. I’ve seen some beautiful pink, white and yellow bags totally covered in grime after the first trip. And if you do get a black bag, do something to distinguish it from all the others. Just make sure it’s not a big scarf that will get stuck on a conveyor belt.”
“If your bag is damaged, make a claim as soon as you pick it up. Most airlines have a 24 hour window to make a claim. Keep the original bag tag on the bag because If you make an online claim you may need to return the empty bag back to the airport.”