2009-09-18 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER While some say that flying is the safest way to travel, it can still pose many frustrations.

From long security lines to flight cancellations, many unforeseen events could potentially put a damper on your travel experience. One of these is the chance that the airline will lose your luggage.

If you are unable to locate your luggage in the baggage claim area after disembarking from a flight, quickly go to the airline's claim counter. Explain your situation to the representative, and have your baggage claim check ready in case the representative asks for it.

The claim representative should be able to tell you the flight your bags are on and when that flight will arrive; often, lost luggage will arrive on the next flight. Most airlines will also arrange to have your bags delivered to you at a convenient location, such as your home or hotel.

If it is a short wait and you plan to stay at the airport, ask if the airline can provide you with a meal voucher; often, this is cheaper for the airline than hiring a courier to deliver your bags.

If the representative cannot locate your luggage, do not panic; airlines find almost all missing bags within a few days.

The airline should provide you with a phone number and web address where you can get information on the status of the bag. You should also receive some compensation for items you will need while waiting for your bags to arrive. Some airlines have overnight kits that contain basic toiletries. However, many airlines will wait 24 hours before they will reimburse you for new clothing.

If you need clothing right away, explain your situation and ask what the airline can do. The airline may also offer to provide you with travel vouchers.

Sometimes, the value of these is greater than what they will give you in cash.

If the airline cannot find your bag, it may have to be declared lost and you will have to fill out a claim form. Be as accurate as possible when describing your bag and its contents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has declared that airlines are only liable for up to $3,300 per passenger and this could be less if your luggage was lost on an international flight.

In addition, airlines often do not reimburse for valuables and electronics; if you plan to travel with such items, check with your airline first to be sure they are covered. Finally, airlines usually only reimburse you for the depreciated value of your items. However, you may be able to claim the difference between this and the actual replacement cost on your homeowner's or renter's insurance or with your credit card company if you used your card to pay for the flight.

There are several ways to decrease the chance that the airline loses your luggage, or, if it is lost, increase the chance that it will be found. Make your bags distinctive by adding color and be sure to remove labels and claim tags from previous trips.

Arrive at the airport on time, so that baggage handlers will not have to rush to get your bags on the plane. If you have your address on the outside of the bag, make sure it is correct. Place a copy of your travel itinerary and contact information in your luggage; this will make it easier for the airline to return it to you.

Several websites provide luggagerelated and other travel tips. The U.S. Department of Transportation (http:// airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/flyrights. htm) offers a "Consumer Guide to Air Travel."

In addition, both the Transportation Security Administration (http://www. tsa.gov/travelers/ index.shtm) and the Federal Aviation Administration (http://www.faa.gov/ passengers/) offer up-to-date information on the many federal regulations pertaining to air travel.

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