Reader Mail: “It took two days for my checked bag to be found. What’s wrong with airlines?”

Today’s reader mail is a familiar complaint on a topic I have covered many times, how to help an airline find your baggage once it has been “lost” … although lost isn’t really the right term. The majority of “lost baggage” simply never made a connection, was checked in to close to flight time, or ended up on the wrong baggage cart. Most “lost baggage” is reunited with its owner fairly quickly, some not so quickly and yes, some are gone forever.


Onto today’s mail from Tanya Lynn, a self describe ‘Occasional Business Traveler,’ from Louisiana. Tanya writes, “I checked in online for my flight from Billings [MT] a day before my departure and dropped my bag more than an hour before my flight, then had almost three hours in Denver before boarding my flight home. When I arrived in New Orleans my bag was not on the flight and it took two days for my checked bag to be found by United. What’s wrong with airlines? They take your checked bag fee money fast enough but can’t be bothered to deliver your bag?


Before I dive into how passengers can help airlines find their bags easier, a few emails back and forth yielded what I suspected … Tanya’s bag was a roll aboard sized black ballistic nylon bag. Her only baggage identification was on a business card tucked into the slot in the back of the bag with no other markings.


Next time you’re in an airport, take a look at how many black ballistic nylon bags you see. They are everywhere and all essentially look the same. Many have red or yellow ribbons tied on them to help identify the bag, but if you’ve ever landed at any airport in Metro New York or South Florida the sheer number of bags with red ribbons tied onto them to “ward off the evil spirits” is astounding.


The key to helping your bag be found quickly and easily? Properly labeling it and making sure it can’t be missed.   I take my baggage identification to an extreme, but with good reason, I hate when my checked baggage doesn’t arrive.  I want to make sure the people sorting the unclaimed baggage can spot mine when looking for it without any effort what-so-ever.


Many travelers use a laminated business card or a bright coloured bag tag to help identify their baggage, but keep this in mind, lost baggage can be stacked and sorted many ways, You have no idea what side of your bag is sticking out. The handle may be visible, it may be out of sight, so your bright personalized bag tag that you are sure makes your bag stand out may not be visible at all.


I have had a traveler tell me they would never place tape on or write on their designer luggage … my advice … do not check your US$3,250 Louis Vuitton rolling luggage. Yes the famous LV Damier Ebene Canvas will stand out in a sea of black ballistic nylon bags, but really that bag should be a carry on bag anyway because it is the prime target for baggage thieves who spend their days hanging around the baggage carousels at airports.


For those of you with the “usual” luggage, remember your bag is for function, not fashion. You need your bag to arrive with you … so you have two options.   The first option is to go pick out some insanely bright colored duct tape or grab a paint marker, my bags have both.  Once you have determined your course of action, Make sure you label all six sides of your bag in a way that it cannot be missed and that your labeling, either directly on the bag or on the duct tape, has your contact information.


Every one of my bags is obnoxiously plastered with flamingo pink duct tape.   The pink duct tape is not applied in a small strip that can come off or be missed, it is big, it is obvious.   A few of my regular travel bags, although rarely checked, are also labeled in bright sunshine yellow paint marker with my last name in big letters, along with the pink tape.  Regardless of paint marker or duct tape, every side of my bag is clearly marked and multiple sides of my bag have my name and contact information in big clear lettering, as well as on a big piece of pink duct tape inside my bag with my contact information.


When I have been separated from my baggage, I have always had bag returned quickly after I was able to describe my bag to the baggage office in terms other than a “Black ballistic nylon bag.”   I describe it as “Black roll aboard marked with flamingo pink tape on all sides, a bright yellow cartoon fish and FRISCHLING on he exterior of the bag.”   So when a baggage sorter goes looking for my bag, they can’t miss it and has always been found the same day.


So Tanya, while United Airlines should have found your bag quicker in a perfect world,  I don’t know if there was an issue with the baggage system, the label fell off, it misconnected or was improperly sorted for some reason, but I do know how you can ensure your bag is back in your hands in far less time next time this happens. Airports are big places, especially those like Denver International Airport, and looking for one bag in a sea of thousands is not as easy as you may think.


Below are three of my bags and how they are labeled for a guide to making your baggage more identifiable.


Happy Flying!



a close up of a black bag

a black bag with yellow writing on it

a black suitcase with pink label

a black suitcase with a pink label

a black suitcase with pink handles

a suitcase with writing on it


  1. My favorite suitcase is a lime green floral rollaboard. My luggage if I check a bag is deep purple. I have bright pink luggage tags on all my bags. They may clash but I can spot my bags quickly.

  2. Great idea for enhancing the visibility of the bags. Another thought would be to keep photos similar to yours on your iPhone to show the folks in the Baggage Service exactly what you are describing to them. This will help illustrate the visibility point to them.

  3. So, I guess I can see writing a somewhat snarky (and perhaps condescending, possibly even rude) post — it is a blog, after all. But couldn’t someone at least edit the content so that it doesn’t contain errors in grammar, punctuation, and usage? Without looking too hard — and without being too nitpicky about it — I can see 13 errors. If you want me to trust what you write, 13 errors is too many. Yeah, it’s a blog and thus a bit more informal, but c’mon… Thirteen mistakes in a 1000-word article? When I’m not too sure of the way you’re communicating, it tends to erode my faith in what you’re saying — even if, as I’m sure is the case, this is really great, useful info.

  4. Rod,

    If you’d like to come on as my editor, please submit a resume. I have long since needed one, but given the minimal revenue generated from the blog, I’d be happy to pay you in stickers.

    Happy Flying!


  5. When luggage is missing for 2 days, I often wonder how it was checked in? I have often heard that if you check it in at the curb and don’t tip the SkyCap enough, it goes to Bora Bora before it goes to YOUR destination. Just sayin…

    PS -(Love your response to Rod!)

  6. Love how you identify your bag in simple easy ways that don’t cost much money – I am going to get some bright tape! I’ve always had green luggage and it’s been easy to find when checked. I’ve since added a pink/yellow tag just for fun.

  7. I have a old army ruck sack when I travel looks nothing the baggage other passengers have so really stands out on the crowd . I know you been looking for a editor for ages now maybe Ron is the right guy for the job πŸ™‚

  8. Hey, flyingfish. I’d love to come aboard and help you edit n’ stuff, but I can’t afford to work for stickers! πŸ™‚ And yet, we all need editors — including me, of course. (Sometimes especially me.)

    Maybe we could swap: You edit me, I edit you. πŸ™‚

    Off-topic, but: That’s what bothers me about blogging… (And I’ve tried it myself, so.) We want to sort of democratize journalism, and I think that’s a truly awesome idea, I really do. I just think that it’s a shame that we can’t also enforce certain standards of professionalism. I suppose I sound like an old, cranky codger. But then, I am at least one of those, possibly both.

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