Hey! Someone Stole My Luggage!

Five ways to protect your stuff from airport thieves before they strike�and what to do if they do.

Thieves don't want to be caught red-handed with distinctively colored baggage

I’m sure you’re ready for that much-needed summer vacation. You’re longing for sun, sand, and a cool breeze on your toes. But one thing that can ruin your travel plans is having your luggage taken. With so many bags on the carousel, it’s easy to accidentally (or in some cases, not so accidentally) pick up someone’s travel bag. I know I’ve had to wrestle a traveler or two who mistakenly swiped my bag. (One couple was arrested for suspicion of stealing over 1,000 pieces of luggage from Phoenix Airport last year!) But how can you deter luggage thieves? Here’s a list of tips that will ensure your luggage goes with you on your next trip.

Be prompt. Get to baggage claim as soon as possible. Try to stand close to the point where the bags first come out of the chute. This will prevent a sneaky passenger from having an opportunity to pick up your luggage.

Try to avoid connecting flights. Connecting flights greatly increase your risk for lost or stolen luggage. If you can, try to book a nonstop flight.

Pay attention and trust no one. Never leave your bags unattended; not even for a second. Take your bags with you into the restroom if you have to. And never ask a stranger to watch your belongings. This might seem like common sense, but you’d be amazed to learn that people still do this. A friend of mine asked a stranger to watch her bags at an airport and had her laptop stolen.

Purchase a bag with a distinct color and design. I once saw a traveler with a red rolling bag that had large, white polka dots on it. There was no way she, or anyone else for that matter, could miss that bag. And, come to think of it, I don’t think anyone would really want her bag. This is especially true for thieves, who try to remain inconspicuous.  Follow her example, and get a travel bag with a unique design. It might clash with your outfit, but you’ll thank us later.

Ask for excess valuation. If you have to check your bags and they contain valuables that cannot be placed in a carry-on, you’ll want to ask for excess valuation. While it won’t deter thieves, it will cover you if they’re successful with the baggage heist. If your bag is lost, most airlines assume a liability of $3,300 for lost baggage on domestic flights. However, you can request coverage above that amount, up to $5,000 for most airlines.  Fees vary for this service. For example, if you ask for excess valuation on Continental Airlines, you’ll be charged $1 for every $100 of coverage beyond the $3,300 limit each way. When checking in, you must declare that your baggage is of higher value than the airline’s maximum limit of liability. Since airline policies often change, review your carrier’s policy before your trip.

File a report. If your bag or valuables from your bag have been stolen, your first step is to contact the police. Then, contact the Transportation Security Administration. It’s important to do it in this order because the TSA will request a police report. Next, contact the airline that you flew with. You’ll have to file a report as soon as you realize your bag or its contents are gone. Most airlines require passengers to report theft within 24 hours. You will have to provide proof of the value of the lost items.

Now that you’re armed with these tips, go out and enjoy your vacation!

Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.

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