Travel Resources

DOT Packing Tips

Travel Rules and Regulations

Very few bags become lost or damaged, but of course accidents do occur. You can reduce your chances of suffering luggage mishaps by following these guidelines from the Department of Transportation:

Checked Luggage

Avoid putting the following items in checked baggage, and try to carry them on your person or in a carry-on:

  • Valuables such as cash and jewelry
  • Critical items like medications, keys, passport, tour vouchers, business papers
  • Irreplaceable items like manuscripts and heirlooms
  • Fragile items such as electronics, cameras, eyeglasses, glass containers. Pad them carefully if they must be checked
  • Perishables

It is possible for bags to be delayed, especially where connecting flights between carriers are involved. It may be wise to include items you will need during the first 24 hours at your destination in a carry-on.

Don’t overstuff checked bags. This added pressure on the latches and zippers makes it easier for them to spring open.

The Transportation Security Administration recommends that you don’t lock your bags. Security personnel may need to open your checked bag, and will break the lock if necessary.

Put a tag on the outside of your baggage with your name, home address, and home and work phone numbers. The airlines provide free stick-on tags. It’s a good idea to employ “privacy tags” which conceal this information from passersby.

Put contact information inside each bag, and add an address and telephone number where you can be reached at your destination city.

Carry-on Baggage

Check with the airline for limits on size, weight, or number of carry-on bags. There is no single federal standard.

Inquire specifically about your flight; different airplanes can have different limits.

If you are using more than one airline for a trip, check on all of them.

A heavy bag which fits in an overhead bin may still cause the bin to exceed its weight limit.

Don’t assume that the flight has unlimited closet space for garment bags; some may have to be checked.

Don’t pack any prohibited items in your carry-on. For the latest info check the Transportation Security Administration website.

Check in the Smart Way

Don’t check in at the last minute. Even if you make the flight, your bag may not.

Get a claim check for every bag that you check. Don’t throw them away until your bags are returned. Not only will you need them if a claim is necessary, but you may need to show them to security upon leaving the baggage-claim area. Keep them on your person – don’t leave them in the seat-pocket on the airplane.

Verify that the agent checking your bags attaches a destination tag to each one (remove tags from previous trips to avoid confusion). Check to see that these tags show the correct three-letter code for your destination airport.

Know where your bags are checked to. They may be checked only to one of your intermediate stops rather than your final destination if:

  • You must clear Customs short of your final destination
  • You are taking a connecting flight involving two airlines which don’t have an interline agreement (e.g., Southwest Airlines does not transfer bags to other carriers).

When booking, select flights which minimize the potential for baggage disruption.

  • Nonstop flights are best
  • Through flights (one or more stops, but no change of aircraft) are also good

Connecting flights increase the likelihood for misrouted luggage, especially if you are making an interline connection (changing aircraft and airlines)

Recovering Lost Luggage

Buy “excess valuation” from the airline if your property is worth more than the airline’s liability limit. This limit is usually $2,800 per passenger for domestic flights, or 1,131 SDR (currently roughly $800) per passenger on most international trips originating in the U.S. (see for the value of the SDR).

Your chances of recovery can be improved depending on where and how you bought your airline ticket. Some credit card companies and travel agencies offer optional baggage insurance; some others provide it automatically.

Safeguard Against Loss

If your bag arrives open, unlocked or visibly damaged, check immediately to see if any of the contents are missing or damaged.

Report any problems to your airline before leaving the airport. Insist that the airline fill out a form and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. Get the agent’s name and an appropriate telephone number for following up (not the reservations line).

It’s not unusual for the airline to take your claim checks when you report the problem; simply make sure this is noted on all copies of the report.

Open your suitcase immediately when you get to where you are staying. Report any damage to contents or pilferage immediately by telephone. Make a note of the date and time of the call, and the name and telephone number of the person you spoke with. Follow up immediately with a certified letter.