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Sometimes luggage gets lost. Here's how to be prepared

A good traveller does not just expect the worst, she anticipates it and makes sure to pack essentials in her carry-on.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Working for an airline comes with many perks. Well, maybe not so much as many as one big one: dirt cheap travel. This was the enticement that landed me in the transient confines of baggage claim for two years, working the front lines of trip tragedies as a customer-service representative for a Canadian regional airline.

I was probably the last person any traveller wanted to see. My news was always bad news – baggage delays, the occasional damage – or worst, no news, which typically meant "lost," though I was careful to avoid the word for fear of having my head (figuratively) ripped off by a red-faced passenger.

During this short tenure, I witnessed many life lessons. And now, as someone who has experienced both ends of a baggage calamity, I can say with confidence that while inconvenience is often inevitable, true disaster can be avoided.

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Baggage delays, for instance, happen for many reasons, but they usually fall into two categories: weight/balance issues, or human error. Both are equally dicey in terms of outcome, but neither have to ruin your trip.

It all begins at home. Let's be honest: Most people throw things into a bag and call that packing. In a best-case scenario, nothing bad will come of this haphazard method. But let's throw icy weather conditions into the mix. In technical terms, this translates into a reduced maximum take-off weight (MTOW): The plane needs to shed some pounds, and fast. The first thing to be taken off? That's right, baggage.

I cannot tell you how many times I had to inform people that their luggage had been delayed only to hear the furious reply that their car keys, medication, house keys et cetera were packed away in said absent suitcases.

"How could you be so thoughtless?" I wanted to shout while shaking them wildly. Of course, I could do no such thing. All I could offer was caution, reminding the hapless travellers to keep necessities in arm's reach. That's what a carry-on is for!

I have not checked luggage in years. Ever since watching the film Up in the Air, I have aspired to be as good a traveller as Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney. Bingham packs his carry-on suitcase with such care and precision that he moves through security checkpoints with the poise of a Dior Homme model. He treats travel like an art form, while most of the travellers I had the displeasure of dealing with treated the airport experience as a necessary evil.

The last time I did check a bag it was left overnight in Toronto; I was left inconsolable and without a Williamsburg-worthy change of clothes in New York. Making matters worse, it happened under the care of my colleagues, who only laughed at my pain. In retrospect, I should have purchased traveller's insurance, which would have turned my fate into a joyous shopping montage.

However trite the saying, it truly is better to be safe than sorry. A good traveller does not just expect the worst, she anticipates it, because "bad luck" usually happens when you let yourself fall prey to the unexpected.

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  • Keep all bare necessities such as medication, keys and wallets in your carry-on.
  • Beware of packing dangerous goods such as loose batteries, which can short-circuit and cause a fire in your luggage.
  • If you can’t lift your carry-on over your head into the overhead bin, chances are it is too heavy and must be checked.
  • Make sure all your bags have identification tags that include the best method to reach you in an emergency, be it by phone or e-mail.
  • Make sure that all liquids in your carry on are 100 millilitres or less.

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