Crowds, cramped flights and a shortage of airline storage space can ruin your trip. Here are tips to help you manage your baggage:
Carry-on limits differ among carriers.
Differing standards and X-ray machine templates which limit the size of bags that can be carried on can complicate connections if you change carriers. Most airlines allow two carry-on bags not to exceed 45 linear inches (or 9 by 14 by 22) apiece. Laptops and purses are sometimes counted differently. Remember that even if you are allowed to carry on bags on your outgoing trip, different rules may apply on your return. If your bag doesn't fit through the X-ray machine, having to return to check it could make you miss your flight. For peace of mind, check the template when you arrive at your destination. You could even walk back through security to make sure your bag will fit.
Don't wrap gifts before traveling.
If you do, put them in checked baggage instead of taking them through security checkpoints, where you may be required to open them. Other possible problems include airline embargoes on boxes, and oversize charges. Shipping is a good alternative. It's especially wise to ship oversize items, such as skis and golf clubs, to your destination in advance of your trip.
Always pack essential items in your carry-on.
These can include medicine, keys, bottled water, travel documents, valuables and fragile items. With expected flight delays and tight connections, your checked bags may not make it to your plane. It's a good idea to take one change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on.
Get the best seat for storing bags.
Try to get a seat more than halfway to the back of the plane. Airlines load from the back first, which gives you a better chance to grab bin space. Bulkhead seats don't have an area to stow bags under the seat in front, so you must use the overhead bins. In the winter, you'll also have people filling bins with coats and presents.
The only exception is Southwest Airlines, where seating is first-come, first-served.
Make your luggage distinctive.
Many bags look alike. To avoid confusion, place name tags inside and outside each piece of baggage. In addition, mark your luggage for visibility. Ribbon, yarn, a bright sticker or tape works well as long as it's distinctive enough that not everyone is using the same device. Always check name tags after claiming a bag to make certain you have the right piece.
Inventory your checked items.
If your luggage is lost, most airlines will pay up $2,500 actual value, not replacement cost. The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., www.unclaimedbaggage.com, eventually sells unclaimed inventory, if you're interested in bargain shopping.
Baggage measures can avoid trouble.
Locking all of your bags protects against thieves or having them open accidentally. Remove straps, hangers, protruding handles and other items, which may snag and damage your bag. Flimsy or overstuffed luggage could break. You can further protect your baggage by using shrink wrap available at some airports to keep bags secure and by using boxes for reinforcing garment bags.