How to make sure luggage makes it across multiple airlines?

I'm planning to travel from Norway to Britain with British Airways, and on to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. However, I've seen statistics showing that airlines, especially British Airways, damage and lose luggage very often. Adding a second airline adds an additional factor for damaging and losing luggage, as well as giving them both the possibility to blame the other for it.

So, my question is: would it be more beneficial to book the tickets separately, and then get my luggage out and make sure it's okay, maybe have a chance to check out the city, and check in again for the next leg?

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separate tickets pretty much guarantees misery in case of delays. In exchange, you are not really reducing the chances of luggage loss or delays, just trying to ensure you'll know who to blame. I would not take that trade. –  Kate Gregory Feb 14 '13 at 16:59
@KateGregory: this should be the answer to the question. –  Jonas Feb 14 '13 at 17:24
Can you post the stats you have found? I'm not sure damage to luggage is as common as you think. And I would be very surprised if it was related to the airline, as baggage handlers tend to be part of the airport, not the airline (some exceptions eg Terminal 5 at Heathrow) In over 700 flights I personally have had luggage damaged once - by airport baggage handlers - and of my team, who travel about as much as me, two have had damaged luggage and one had lost luggage. So I would recommend the simplest solution, which is to check it all the way to your destination and not worry about it. –  Rory Alsop Feb 14 '13 at 21:59
@RoryAlsop is right: The airport is more important than the airline. I would also guess that the most frequent problems would be delays (baggage delivered later), followed by loss or theft rather than damage per se. –  Relaxed Sep 12 '13 at 7:06

I think BA are pretty good with baggage - I fly with them quite a bit and I've certainly never had any problems. (They did have some major problems the first few weeks after T5 opened, but those are all now sorted and luggage generally works very well at T5 now)

There can always be problems though, so there are two things you should always do when travelling with checked luggage. The first is have travel insurance with decent delayed/lost baggage cover. This will mean that if your luggage is delayed, you'll have some cash with which to buy necessities. (The airline may cover some things, but usually not as much as a decent travel insurance policy will). Secondly, always take one set of underwear and a clean top in your carry-on. That way, if your luggage is delayed, you've still got some clean clothes to wear the next day while you wait / go buy some other clothes.

If there are two of you travelling, don't pack exclusively "his" and "hers" (or hers 'n hers) suitcases. Put a couple of changes of clothes into the other person's suitcase. That way, if one of you finds your bag delayed for 24 hours, you've got some stuff.

Otherwise, try to avoid very tight connections. Tight connections are often the source of delayed bags, because you can often run from one gate to another much faster than your bags can get offloaded, sorted and re-loaded. Things around the MCT are problematic in the events of delays, so be extra careful at busy / weather prone / delay prone airports.

Finally, make sure your bags are in good condition, and don't have things that could get eaten by machinery (wrap them if they do). A suitcase with bits hanging off that's on its last legs is much less likely to survive a problem than one in good condition!

For your case, book your flights as a single ticket (it's all oneworld so that shouldn't be an issue), that way if one flight is delayed there won't be any issues with getting put for free onto a later flight + receiving support (food, overnight accommodation etc) if needed. Most BA flights use T5 at Heathrow, CX use T3, so both you and your bags need to change terminals. Factor that in to how long you have between the two! Oh, and there are quite a few oneworld flights to Hong Kong every day from Heathrow (5? 6?), so if your bags do miss your flight for some reason, it shouldn't be too long to wait until the next one for them to come on!

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FYI, the carrier almost has nothing to do with the luggage since the airport handles it. BA might be great with luggage, but after they put a sticker on it their job is mostly done. –  Stephen P. Feb 18 '13 at 15:32
Alright, thanks for the info. Not checking luggage as the others suggested isn't really an option as I'll be moving for university. I guess I'll just hope for the best, and in any case I'll have insurance to cover up to \$3600 –  DarkLightA Feb 19 '13 at 20:08

Simply put, the best way to avoid problems with checked luggage is to never check luggage. Reduce the things you carry ruthlessly until they can fit into a carry-on bag, or consider a shipping service— FedEx or DHL will happily send it straight to your hotel, and you'll be able to insure it and track its progress online. In fact, I would prefer to ship some very important items, for example, a wedding dress on its way to a destination wedding.

Of course, the "no check" option is not always feasible, especially for extended trips; there are too many things needed and it is too costly or time-consuming to ship. And non-stops are not always available or cost-effective.

Check baggage loss statistics for airlines, although these are not always available or up-to-date. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation publishes Air Consumer Travel Reports on a monthly basis, with mishandled baggage being one of the metrics covered. Of course, your mileage may vary; large international network carriers will always have more mishandled bags than domestic point-to-point carriers, and you won't be able to take the latter on an intercontinental trip. I would say airports, rather than airlines, are more closely correlated to lost bags, but those stats are almost impossible to come by.

There are devices and services such as Trakdot that will alert you if your luggage does not arrive. You might look into RFID tracking services like ReboundTag or SuperSmartTag. These won't prevent your bag from getting lost, but makes it easier for the airline to track them down and match them to you, making a faster recovery possible.

But would not be in your best interest to book each segment separately. You don't actually reduce the risk of it getting lost: a bag on one leg can fall off the truck and never get loaded, get knocked off the conveyor belt at the terminal and never make it to baggage claim, or get stolen by an airport employee just the same as a bag scheduled for multiple legs.

Meanwhile, you swap the potential inconvenience of losing a bag (and probably only temporarily) for the guaranteed inconvenience of needing to reclaim it, process through customs, then re-check the bag at each transfer point. On separate tickets, if your inbound flight is delayed or canceled, your connecting airline has no obligation at all to you to accommodate you on a later flight; you would be subject at the very least to a change fee and fare difference, and if you are not able to cancel the ticket prior to its scheduled departure, you may forfeit its value entirely and be forced to buy a walk-up fare or to cancel your trip.

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great tip with the RFID :) –  bPratik Feb 14 '13 at 18:20

As a rule of thumb, you can't guarantee safe delivery. There is always the "possibility"!

There are specialized services for Door to door baggage transport. A commercial option available online is one that British Airways (read never cheap) recommends is First Luggage. You could look for similar services offered by other companies.

In the same line of thought, you could always get a logistics/courier company to haul your baggage for you separate from the airlines.

Also, ensure that you split the essentials across the multiple pieces of luggage, as when the inevitable happens, you are not left with only souvenirs to cover your essentials!

As you have made no mention of any budget constraints in your post, I assume there are none to a reasonable extent.

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The only way to ensure that your luggage does not get lost is by carrying it on. I'm on the road 25 weeks a year and almost always do carry on - there's usually a way to trim back.

The few times I have checked my luggage, I would estimate it has been lost 50% of the time. The good news is it's extremely rare to lose luggage (they assure me) and less then 1% of "misdirected" bags are lost permanently. Usually it misses a transfer and arrives on the next flight. You get it in the morning, and even drive it out to your hotel and leave it with reception. If it's heavy you sometimes hope it's their problem.

I wouldn't worry about it though. If you can't restrict to carry on, put everything you need for a couple days and you expensive things in your carry on, and the rest in your checked. Have fun!

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Where are you travelling where they are losing your bags 50% of the time? :) –  Andrew Ferrier Sep 9 '13 at 14:06
@AndrewFerrier Toronto Pearson (YYZ). They always get it to me in a week, but I would rather just avoid the whole situation. –  Stephen P. Oct 21 '13 at 17:01