It’s no secret that bags are being lost at UK airports as fast as Netflix has shed subscribers. So if you’re planning to travel this summer, it’s best to expect that some of your luggage might get waylaid at some point in your journey — and to have a back-up plan in case the worst happens.
The obvious solution is to hit the airport with hand luggage only, but that’s not always possible if you need to travel with verboten cargo, as hairstylist Tariq Howes learned on a recent work trip to Switzerland. “My kit bag — containing all my scissors and equipment, which I have to put in the hold — remained in Heathrow as I arrived in Zurich. For three days I had to share tools with other people backstage at a fashion show, which wasn’t easy. I also had to buy new clothes and toothbrushes, which — it being Switzerland — wasn’t cheap.”
To avoid a similar fate, Howe recommends making your case as recognizable as possible before you check it in. “After my experience, I bought a selection of giant name tags for my cases, as I think making them really identifiable will make them easier to find,” he says. “Also, if it happened again, I would wait at the airport, ask more questions and request real contact numbers to stay on top of tracking.”
FT men’s fashion critic Alexander Fury’s case was lost on a recent trip to Europe for the spring/summer 2023 menswear fashion shows. “My bag was packed for Milan and Paris, covering a good 10-day stretch of clothes to cope with scorching European heat while also trying to appear fashionable enough to vaguely deserve my job title.” But when Fury’s airline failed to load all the bags on to a London-Milan flight, “over half the passengers’ luggage didn’t follow them to Italy”.
Fury’s hot tip for luggage-loss survival is twofold. First, invest in some smart tech, pre-flight. “Buy Apple AirTags,” he tells me emphatically. “AirTag all your luggage, then you can monitor it. I didn’t have it before — but it was only through a fellow passenger’s AirTag that we realized where our luggage was.”
The second tip is to fly in a simple uniform, which will make repeated wear of your in-flight clothes considerably less noticeable if your bag does get misplaced. “I am lucky in that my summer uniform is a black T-shirt,” says Fury. “I had worn a pair of decent Raf Simons shorts for the flight, so I didn’t look totally awful. But I did have to wear them for two days. I now have a form of fashion-specific Stockholm syndrome and want to only wear them every day.”
I lost my bag on a recent holiday to Greece — which was my fault really, having had the audacity to believe I could ever take two whole weeks off without everything going to pot. I had been warned by a number of my more peripatetic friends that the baggage situation at Heathrow was even worse than was being reported in the news, and so to travel with hand luggage only. But, in a jolt of Macbeth-level hubris, I chose to ignore their advice, preferring instead to check in my ridiculous Louis Vuitton hardside case, crammed with swimming shorts, short-sleeved shirts and swishy trousers, plus a pair of Marni loafers I ‘d treated myself to for the trip.
The moment I landed, I was informed by a harassed-looking airport employee that my case had remained in London and that I would need to fill out a form on the British Airways website to get it back. Suffice to say, my case did not reappear until I returned home from the trip, laden like a too-tanned bougatsa-stuffed donkey, with carrier bags chock-full of all the sweat-stained H&M T-shirts, tatty flip-flops and cheapo bottles of sun cream I’d been forced to shell out at the moment I touched down in Athens.
The truth is, however, that there was something perversely pleasurable about suddenly finding myself unencumbered by a big case packed with clothes I’d most likely never have worn on my low-key beach holiday. Sure, I may have wasted long hours that could have been better spent gorging on filo pastry instead of harassing the British Airways “customer service” bot on Twitter. And yes, I may have lodged several strongly worded complaints on the woefully unmanned Executive Club phone line, but on the whole I tried to lean into the loss, going for a low-maintenance existence I don’t come anywhere close to achieving in London . I felt lighter, if a touch bereft, and the whole experience, if you’ll allow me to go all Marie Kondo on you for a moment, even ignited a spark of joy.
I was also lucky. My bag was returned relatively quickly, and fully intact (thank you BA). Heathrow refuses to share any data on the number of cases it misplaces and mishandles, but judging by the smelly stack of Samsonite softsides and bashed-up aluminum Rimowas piled up in the baggage reclaim hall when I arrived home, there are many people who haven’t t been as fortunate as me. And the summer holidays have barely begun.
So what do you do if your luggage gets lost and never reappears? According to investment professional Alex Bozoglou, whose case disappeared for ever into the airport ether on a recent business trip, the key is to stay calm. “Should the worst happen,” says Bozoglou, “then get hold of your airline by any means possible. It seems from my experience that folks are more responsive on apps like Twitter and Instagram rather than traditional phone lines. Maintaining a sense of calm and having all the necessary identification information at hand should help to keep everyone’s temper in check. If by some miracle your luggage is found, think carefully about whether you want it delivered to your current location or sent back home — if your bags have been lost once, they can certainly be lost again!”
If you do find yourself without your bag and need to attend business meetings on arrival, then Bozoglou suggests leaning into your pandemic-acquired communication skills and switching them all to Zoom. Oh, and buy a shirt. “I changed all my meetings to video calls, and for those calls I wore a crisp white shirt which I bought as soon as I landed. A shirt was far more important for Zoom than suit trousers, a blazer or a razor, so in the short period of time available, I prioritized.”
The last word must go to Fury, however, whose third lost-luggage survival tip might be the most appropriate for the readers of this paper. “Never visit a Cartier boutique with luggage-loss PTSD,” he notes seriously. “Or you may accidentally buy a very expensive watch as a coping mechanism.”
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