Worth of lost luggage to rise to $3,000 

Your lost luggage could soon be worth $3,000, with receipts.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is poised to raise the maximum amount airlines must pay for lost luggage by $200 from $2,800 beginning Wednesday. That won’t include laptop computers, iPods or camera equipment, all among items that airlines claim no liability for if packed in checked luggage.

"That seems fair to me," said Katy Wells, who flew into San Francisco International Airport on Friday from Pine, Colo., to begin a vacation.

Wells said she pays special attention to what she packs in her checked luggage when she jetsoff, just in case it does turn up lost. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to her.

"Anytime I travel, it’s for pleasure, so we’re talking jeans and sweaters," Wells said.

Airlines lost more than 4 million pieces of luggage in 2006, up from 2.9 million in 2005, according to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the DOT. That’s 6.73 pieces of mishandled luggage per 1,000 customers, compared to 6.64 in 2005, records show.

The increase in mishandled baggage, which includes damaged, lost or pilfered claims, is partially due to higher passenger figures, said Robin Urbanski, spokeswoman for SFO’s biggest carrier, United Airlines.

"Even so, we need to do a better job making sure our customers’ bags are on their flights," she said.

New restrictions on fluids have also meant more travelers are checking their luggage, adding to the number of bags airlines have to screen, load and ultimately get to the proper destination, said Tim Smith, American Airlines’ spokesman.

Overall, lost luggage isn’t common. "About 99.4 percent [of bags] arrive at the same airport on the same plane as the passenger," Smith said.

If luggage is lost, travelers should report it before they leave the airport, or at least within 24 hours, airlines officials said. After a search that can range from three days to several weeks, depending on the airline, travelers can fill out a claim form to be reimbursed. Most airlines request receipts for items that travelers claim were in their luggage, especially expensive items, Smith said.

But even items such as clothes, for which customers have no receipt, should be included for consideration, Urbanski said.

While $3,000 may be the maximum required, airlines could choose to reimburse for more, though it isn’t common. "Good luck in getting that, airlines have a lot of flexibility on what they pay," said Sean Comey, spokesman for AAA of Northern California. Travel agencies occasionally aid AAA members in navigating the "extremely cumbersome" system, Comey said.

A traveler’s best bet is to take anything valuable in their carry-on luggage, Comey said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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