The One Thing You Should Do Before You Check Your Bag

Most people put luggage tags on the outside of their suitcases. But what happens if they get torn off?

Checked suitcase and carry-on luggage on the curbside ready for travel with address tags.

Placing luggage tags on the outside of your suitcase isn’t enough.

Photo by Shutterstock

Good news for travelers: The number of lost or mishandled bags is going down.

According to a new study from SITA, an IT company that provides bag-tracking systems to airlines, the number of lost or mishandled bags decreased in 2023, from 7.6 bags to 6.9 bags per thousand customers. And that’s during a time when passenger numbers also rose to 5.2 billion, surpassing 2019 levels for the first time in five years.

Still, mistakes happen. And while many travelers are diligent about attaching tags with their information on the outside of their bags, if those external tags are torn off, damaged, or removed, either accidentally or intentionally, reuniting you with your luggage can be a challenge. However, one small move could help you get your belongings back faster. It involves also placing your contact information inside your luggage.

“Putting your name and contact information on your bag and inside your bag is extremely helpful if your bag is delayed, misplaced, or lost during your travel,” Nicole Hogg, director of product management at SITA, told Afar. “It is easier for the airline staff to identify the owner of the bag so they can provide the most up-to-date and accurate status of the bag to the passenger and, overall, it is a simple and effective way to ensure that the passenger’s luggage is returned in a timely manner.”

In situations where luggage is lost, Hogg added, airlines and travel authorities have protocols to search the interior of bags for identification. If your contact information is only on the outside and those information materials go missing, the process of reuniting you with your belongings can be delayed indefinitely. And while you can provide the airline with any and all identifiable features of the bag and its contents when filing your lost bag report and there is a chance the airline will be able to ID the bag based on a detailed description without any contact info on the inside or outside, 1.8 million bags are lost permanently each year. By placing a card with your name, phone number, and email address inside your luggage, you provide a personal-information backup and increase the likelihood that your luggage will be returned to you promptly.

(To prevent your luggage lock being cut by TSA agents to gain access to your bag, be sure to use a suitcase with TSA-approved locks so they can use their master key to open your bag.)

While this additional identification recommendation is perhaps not common knowledge for fliers, some airlines do suggest it to travelers. Delta’s Frequently Asked Questions page online, for example, offers this guidance to its passengers: “We require outside personal identification on all checked baggage. We also recommend inside identification details, just in case the outside identification gets lost.”

Be sure to put your information card in a highly visible place within your luggage and also consider laminating the card or putting it in a clear plastic pouch to protect your information from spills or damage. You might also think about including secondary contact numbers or details of your travel itinerary, such as the hotel you’ll be staying at during your trip. If you really want to cover your bases while traveling internationally, include a translation of your contact details in the local language of your destination to aid local authorities in identifying you.

And while it should go without saying, be sure that the contact information is current and accurate. Outdated information can hinder uniting you with your lost luggage.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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