If you're like most business travelers, you'd probably rather swim to your destination than entrust your luggage to an airline-with good reason.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there's at least a one-in-200 chance that an airline will "mishandle" your luggage-a general term for baggage that's lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered. The numbers hardly inspire confidence in the carriers' ability to transport you and your checked-in belongings.
But the alternatives aren't exactly appealing. A company called The Virtual Bellhop LLC offers to pick up your luggage one day before departure, deliver it to your hotel, and then ship it back to your home. The service is pricey: A typical round trip for two pieces of luggage between big cities costs about $400.
When I looked into using Virtual Bellhop between Baltimore-Washington International and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a recent trip, the rate was $600 for 50 to 75 pounds of baggage-almost as much as I'd paid for two round-trip airline tickets. I decided to take my chances and play luggage roulette.
It will take time to solve the luggage dilemma. Northwest Airlines is building a robust tracking system that will be sophisticated enough to pinpoint your bags' location from its Web site, just like FedEx and UPS are able to do. Airlines also voluntarily raised their luggage liability to $2,500 per passenger, meaning they're taking more responsibility when they lose your possessions. But change is slow, and luggage is still getting lost. If you can avoid checking it, you should.
Christopher Elliott is a writer in Annapolis, Maryland. Contact him at www.elliott.org.
- Virtual Bellhop LLC, (877) 235-5467, www.virtualbellhop.com