Lost luggage, holiday travel: a story, advice

Time to challenge your disposition. Another holiday travel season has begun. ’Tis the season of wily weather, missed connections and lengthy layovers; each roadblock tinkers and tampers with our temperament.

I am thankful for many things in 2009, and that includes not losing luggage while traveling. This makes Louise Burke’s list of thanks different than mine.

Louise and Marcus Eagan are a gracious and good-humored couple who live in Australia. We met during a five-day bus tour of southern Spain this year, but I never saw Louise’s well-traveled luggage.

The couple was on a three-week holiday – first Paris, then onto Madrid via Brussels Airlines, working in partnership with Iberia Airlines. That’s a relatively short hop geographically: Think Madison to Kansas City.

But the Madrid (MAD, in airport code) bag tag was mistaken for Madras (MAA), as in India. Think Madison to someplace in, say, Argentina.

When assured that the suitcase would catch up with her in Seville, Louise didn’t seem too worried. We’d be in Seville for two nights.

But the bag didn’t show up, and the Louise was getting little more than busy signals from the airlines. After finally connecting, it was suggested that the delivery company – and not the airlines – was at fault.

So the situation was getting more complicated as we headed to Costa del Sol, about 100 miles away. Louise did a little clothes shopping and with the help of tour/hotel guides remained persistent.

When her luggage didn’t make it to the Spanish coastline or Granada, our next overnight stop, we could see that Louise and Marcus had begun to lose their optimism, figuring the bag was lost for good.

Their camera battery was dead. Their cell phone was not far behind. Re-chargers were in the missing luggage. Although told they’d be reimbursed up to 50 Euro (about $75) per day for their misfortune, the couple was rightfully wary. “Lost bag” meant “lost credibility.”

A pattern began: On our last days together, the suitcase reportedly arrived at our hotel on the day after we left. Would this continue after the bus trip ended, as the couple headed to Lisbon and Portugal?

When we left Louise and Marcus in Madrid, they were still smiling but slightly paranoid, hoping that the AWOL bag would arrive – as promised – at the city’s Barajas airport.

“I wasn’t trusting another courier to send it to the hotel, so we went ourselves,” Louise reports, via e-mail, and they at last were reunited with the bag, in the airlines’ collections area. “As you can imagine, the relief I felt when I was finally was able to touch my bag was indescribable.”

The couple’s European adventure continued, without incident, and Louise began the work of “trying to claim the extra clothes I bought back through the airline. … we’ll see if they come to the party!”
I’ve been unable to connect with her since then, to see how it all turned out, but I can’t help but think of this near-worst-case luggage scenario as we begin a busy holiday travel season.

No matter how you get around, try to prepare for the unexpected. I’m honing my packing skills, so I can travel with only a carry-on in more situations. It can be done for even lengthy trips, as a smart colleague (Lori Erickson of Iowa) proved when we headed to Egypt for 13 days in February.

Build a travel wardrobe around one color and clothing that can be mixed/matched various ways. Try to get by with, at most, one extra pair of shoes. Take small-size toiletries and remember to put all liquids in a see-through plastic bag, to pull out during airport screening.

Driving? Take a fully charged cell phone and stash an emergency winter car kit in the trunk. The American Automobile Association recommends that the kit include a flashlight, flares, first aid supplies, a blanket, ice scraper/snow brush, jumper cables and something for traction (like cat litter or strips of carpeting).

Dreading your need to travel for the holidays? Consider this advice, excerpted from www.wejustgotback.com, a site that specializes in family-friendly travel.

Book now. Peak season isn’t the time to hold out for a sweet last-minute deal.

Be flexible with dates. Leave a day or two before or after a school break to help bring down costs.

Play dead. That means traveling a week immediately following a holiday period (such as right after New Year’s Day) to save big money.

Find a shoulder. For every destination that’s in high season, there’s another place in low season. A popular money-saving trick is to simply target off-season destinations.

Fly early and non-stop. Airport delays tend to pile up as the day wears on, creating afternoon logjams.

Buy insurance. During busy travel periods, there’s a greater risk that something will go wrong, such as lost luggage or a cancelled flight. Travel insurance is relatively cheap and easy to buy online.