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How to keep your luggage safe as European airports lose hundreds of bags

Baggage building up at Frankfort airport on 4 July.
Baggage building up at Frankfort airport on 4 July.   -   Copyright  Giulia Carbonaro
By Euronews Travel

Lost luggage is piling up at Frankfurt Airport as customers face “disgraceful” queues and last-minute cancellations.

Staffing shortages, last minute airline cancellations, and booming traveller numbers have created a perfect storm at the beleaguered German airport.

“Due to high passenger numbers, we are experiencing disruptions and longer wait times for passengers,” an airport spokesperson tweeted on Saturday.

Passengers have described the airport as a “complete and utter mess” and “the worst (they) have ever experienced.”

Photos taken inside the terminal reveal winding lines of suitcases, unclaimed by their owners.

“#Lufthansa my luggage has been sitting in Frankfurt airport for 2 days… this is the second day of my daughter’s wedding event in Ibiza and our whole wedding party hasn’t got our bags yet,” user Wendy Marciano tweeted.

UK’s Heathrow airport is also facing unprecedented disruption. Last week, technical issues with the airport’s luggage system resulted in mounds of abandoned cases left in baggage halls.

Some passengers have said the luggage, which has been sitting in terminals for up to 10 days, is beginning to stink.

What’s behind the baggage issues at European airports?

As travel experiences go, there’s little worse than watching the minutes tick by in a stationary line, trying to work out if you’ll be able to make it to your gate before the flight leaves.

But discovering your luggage has been lost is right up there too, and it's been a reality many holidaymakers have faced over the past few months.

“Hundreds of passengers across the country (the UK) are ending up separated from their baggage for hours and some even days, as the baggage claim areas pile up,” says Paul Stewart, managing director of luggage shipping company My Baggage.

“Many have been asked to submit missing bag claims, which could result in weeks before the airline sends their belongings via courier.”

This is another knock-on effect of the recent staffing issues across Europe. Baggage handlers are struggling to keep up with the sudden influx of tourists since COVID restrictions were scrapped. Airlines - which are responsible for your luggage - made thousands of employees redundant at the start of the pandemic, and are now struggling to rehire them in time.

Early starts and low wages are making it tricky for airlines to attract new staff, who must then undergo weeks-long security vetting.

Photos of piles of abandoned suitcases shared on social media are the other side of this coin. Some travellers resorted to leaving their belongings behind for the night rather than staying to face another hour watching an empty conveyor belt.

If you have baggage separation issues, here are some handy tips to help you get your items back.

Lost luggage? Keep calm and call your airline

“If your luggage fails to turn up at your destination airport, the best thing you can do is stay calm,” says Stewart.

“There are plenty of options that can make a big difference in approaching lost luggage with the most important being reporting the problem to your airline immediately as you’re more likely to get compensation.”

Be sure to leave your contact information when you call the airline so they can keep you updated. Most airlines, including easyJet, will deliver your luggage to your home if delayed or lost.

In some cases, if your travel or home insurance will also cover lost luggage, Stewart suggests it may be more effective to make a claim this way than through the airline your flight was with.

Pack light and travel with handheld luggage

It’s easier said than done for some holidaymakers, but packing less could be part of the solution. Only taking hand luggage will cut down on waiting times at check-in and baggage pick-up.

Packing smarter will bring you more peace of mind too. Try to fit your electronics and other valuables like jewellery into carry-on baggage, so you can keep an eye on them.

British Airways advises this at the best of times - as it doesn’t accept liability for lost valuables, cash or documents in checked baggage unless you declare it has a higher value at the check-in desk, and pay an extra fee.

It may also be worth getting travel insurance before the journey that covers the loss of any valuables during your trip.

And in the event that your luggage is lost, you’ll thank your past self for packing essentials like toiletries and a change of underwear in your carry on bag.

Could a luggage courier service be the answer?

As a luggage shipping company, MyBaggage does have a horse in this race. But a courier service is looking ever more attractive to Easter travellers wanting to avoid at least some of the queues.

“Using a luggage shipping company allows passengers to travel knowing their luggage will be waiting for them at their destination, and can more than half wait times as they can avoid queues and ever-growing wait times for baggage reclaim,” says Stewart.

For a 20kg suitcase from your home to a hotel in Spain, for example, the company charges £36 (€43) for delivery in three to four days, which may well be cheaper than checking a bag on the airline you’re flying with.