It's hard not to feel trapped when the plane is slowly deboarding. It's almost like you get itchy. Then the legs get moving up the jetway and you find that you have a pep in your step despite the long flight. The humid air puts some color on your face, a pretty girl gives you a lei and someone is delightfully playing ukulele somewhere in the open-air airport.
You wait patiently by baggage claim. You watch as others energetically whisk away their bags to start their tropical vacations. The crowd thins. You're the only one left. And the wind is taken right out of the sails before the starting gun.
Don't panic. Nearly 10 million people visit Hawaii each year. Mistakes are bound to happen, but airlines are incredibly good at finding your luggage, flying your bags to your island and quickly delivering your belongings to your hotel. You just need to track down the right representative. And you should also take some precautions the next time you fly.
It's easy to understand why luggage gets lost on its way to Hawaii. Millions upon millions of bags are handled every year, and nobody is perfect. That's why you should pack a day or two of clothing in your carry-on.
Most airlines allow a personal item and one carry-on item per flight. Usually, a size restriction is enforced for carry-on baggage; something like this -- 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches. The dimensions should allow you to pop the bag in the overhead compartment above your seat. The personal item, no bigger than your average purse, goes under the seat in front of you.
Make sure to pack a day or two worth of clothing in your carry-on as well as any needed toiletries. This will allow you to shake off a lost bag because you know that you're set until your misplaced checked bag shows up at your hotel room door. It will allow you to fly with confidence, and packing a day's worth of clothing can help relieve the stress of flying.
You want your checked baggage to stand out. This will allow the airline to identify your bag quickly so you can get your stuff back faster. Most travelers use a plain black roller bag. Try mixing up the color, or you can simply tie some flare onto the bag's handle. A certain colored ribbon will do just fine.
You should also know that baggage personnel will likely open your misplaced luggage to further identify the bag. You'll have to tell the baggage agent what can be found on the top layer of your luggage, so don't pack anything on top that you don't want to be seen. And you can go the extra mile by placing something unique at the top of your bag's pile. You can even print a picture of yourself giving a thumbs up with the caption, "You found it!"
And, of course, keep your baggage receipt. You'll receive a little sticker, usually attached to your physical boarding pass when you initially check your bag. This sticker has a barcode that expedites the bag finding process. Each bag is scanned before it's thrown into the belly of any plane. That little barcode can be matched to tell the baggage agent which plane it was mistakenly tossed onto.
When you are certain that your bag isn't coming out of the carousel, you'll have to do some looking. There's usually an airline representative standing in the baggage claim area attending to people like you; people who have lost their bags. Feel free to walk right up to the representative to tell them about your problem even if they don't work for the airline you flew. They'll at least be able to point you in the right direction.
Airlines keep a baggage office at each airport. The employees in these offices are experienced professionals that have tracked down thousands of bags. That's why they may appear so calm even as you talk frantically. Treat them with respect and everything will go a lot faster. After all, they aren't the ones who tossed your bag on the wrong plane.
Simply hand over your little bag receipt and everything should be automated. The agent will tell you where your bag is located, how quickly it can get to the island and when to expect the bag at your door. Airlines employ couriers for lost baggage. You will not need to return to the airport to pick up your luggage.
If you don't have your little bag receipt sticker, then hand over your boarding pass. If you don't have your board pass, then you'll have to identify yourself, what your bag looks like and what is packed on the top layer of your luggage. Unfortunately, the agent may not be able to tell you specifics without that little receipt sticker.
The back of your ticket should tell you the maximum expense you can claim due to lost baggage. It should be no less than $200, but it can be as high as $3,400. The baggage agent will tell you to simply bring back the receipts of anything you needed to buy due to misplaced baggage. That means you can purchase a couple of hundred dollars worth of T-shirts, shoes, hiking backpacks; anything that you would have used in your lost bag. Bring it back to the agent during departure and they'll cut you a check.
And you can also demand that your baggage fee is refunded. You paid a ridiculous extra fee for your bag to be delivered to your island with you. They failed. You shouldn't have to pay. Note that this is not an automated process. You'll still have to demand a refund, and there's no guarantee that you'll get it.
It's always a good idea to take a picture of your bag when you're arriving for your initial departure. Make sure to put a time stamp on it by emailing the image to yourself. This will serve as a record in case your baggage is damaged, and it can also help baggage agents identify your bag in case it is misplaced.
You can demand the airline pay for repairs to your luggage if it arrives damaged. The same goes for its contents, but it may be difficult to prove you simply didn't pack poorly. The airline should cover the cost of repairs or at least cut you a check for the bag's depreciated value. Be prepared to negotiate.
Lost luggage is a rare occurrence. Your bag was probably thrown onto the wrong plane. But luggage can be lost when there are more than 10 million bags arriving in Hawaii every year. Now it's time to set a claim.
The airlines are pros at this. You're an amateur. You're going to have to fight for every penny, and know that you're not likely to get paid full price for everything in your lost bag. And don't ask for too much. Your claim won't be honored if it seems absurd. Make a reasonable claim, be patient through the process and you'll get reimbursed for your stuff. If not, you can always file a complaint with the Department of Transportation which has been bringing down the hammer on airlines in recent years.
And remember, Hawaii has everything you’ll need available for purchase, so don’t let lost luggage ruin your Hawaiian vacation.