Lost Cause

Assuming the airlines won't learn to take care of your luggage any time soon . . .

The airlines may have raised the damage award for delayed, lost or damaged luggage from $1,250 to $2,500 per passenger last year, but they've done little to restore faith in their luggage-tracking abilities. Northwest, one of several airlines working to overcome that perception, has developed a more sophisticated system that will let passengers check the status of their luggage on the Web. Until such systems are up and running, however, travelers must contend with an imperfect system.

If your luggage gets lost, fall back on the following resources:

The U.S. Department of Transportation's "Fly-Rights" brochure is an excellent place to start when trying to understand your rights. It's available online at www.dot.gov/airconsumer/flyrights.htm or as a booklet from the Consumer Information Center, Dept. 133-B, Pueblo, CO 81009 ($1.75, including postage).

Another good resource is your airline's Web site. Delta's site, for example, has a whole section on baggage, including data about excess baggage, liability and carry-on allowances.

Check out consumer travel advocate Terry Trippler's lost-baggage tips at www.onetravel.com. Trippler explains the rules and regulations in plain English and offers other information, including analysis of the airlines' lost-baggage numbers.

Christopher Elliott is a writer in Annapolis, Maryland. Contact him at www.elliott.org.

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