Airlines claim the chances of them losing your luggage is about 1 percent. As someone who has flown numerous times on fishing and hunting trips, I’ll beg to differ. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips that helped my gear items (mostly) make it to their destination. Whether it is fishing gear, bows, shotguns or rifles, the success you experience in the field starts when you book your flights.
TAKE YOUR TIME
While it is tempting to book flights with little layover time of less than an hour between connections, thinking that the earlier flight means arriving earlier for an adventure — please reconsider. If you’ve checked in a gun, archery or rod case, I can almost guarantee all your bags will be “randomly” pulled out for inspection, delaying their loading. As someone who has seen a TSA inspection card in my baggage on virtually every outdoor trip, I can tell you that a short connection time between flights means the chances of your luggage making it to a connecting flight are about 70/30. Booking flights with one- to three-hour layovers ensures that belongings make it from one flight to the next.
Between flights, oversized items, such as golf clubs, guns, bows and rod cases, are packed into a separate cart while regular luggage has priority. Standard luggage loads transfer quickly, while oversized items are transferred last.
PRINT IS BETTER THAN DIGITAL
Once you are packed, print out two sets of your flight itinerary and final destination addresses and contact information. One set goes into your outgoing luggage and the other goes into your return luggage. If you expect the luggage sticker and barcode issued by the airline will ensure your bag makes it to your destination, think again. Paper luggage tickets and ID tags tear off through rough handling and are sometimes lucky to make it through a flight intact. Having extra identification inside your rod/gun case and luggage allows airline staff to get it back on track sooner.
BE THE EXPERT
If you travel with firearms, you already know to arrive early, declare firearms at check-in, show they are unloaded, be ready for TSA inspection and sign the declaration card. However, not every airline employee is familiar with these practices, so it is a good idea to:
- Print a copy of your airline’s baggage policy for firearms and sporting equipment and be familiar with the airline’s policy on ammunition limits. Present it to the check-in employee if they don’t understand how to check in firearms and don’t hesitate to ask for a TSA agent to assist in inspecting your case and ammunition before checking in to your flight.
- Document the make, model and serial number of your firearm with your cell phone camera. If your gun gets lost — and the airlines do take it seriously — you’ll need to positively identify it.
- Bring spare locks and keys in your carry-on luggage. A fellow outdoor writer lost a lock at one of our hunts in the middle of nowhere in Texas. There were no spare locks to be found. All locking points on a gun case require a lock. In the past they would secure it with zip ties; not anymore. He was actually stranded until a lock was shipped to his lodge a few days later.
I’ve been fortunate to make all of my trips with my luggage and gear intact. I credit the airlines for returning my gear to me (sometimes days later) when they have misdirected my luggage, but some of that luck was good preparation on my part. Do your part and worry less about your luggage on your next trip of a lifetime.