October 12, 2023


If you fly a lot, in particular with connections, you quickly learn that checked baggage is a huge liability.  The problem is not only checked luggage fees which have become commonplace in the industry but also the fact that your baggage can get delayed or lost, which can cause major inconvenience and travel disruption in addition to financial loss. 

To avoid checked luggage I have learned to travel light as well as maximize allowed carry-on when I need to. These days the only time I would need to check in luggage is when I have some special equipment (i.e. diving or climbing) or I have to bring something large, like marketing materials.

Packing light and compact is a key to avoiding checked luggage. Doing laundry is another key skill, especially for longer trips. Many hotels charge insane rates for laundry so access to self-serve laundry is a key, though if you have synthetic clothes it tends to be easy to wash in the hotel sink and it dries overnight too. 

Many airlines have baggage tracking in the app, which technically should show you how your bag is progressing. In reality, I found these to be unreliable especially when transferring to partner airlines. 

As I travel I do not think my luggage was ever completely lost yet, but I had it delayed many times, with lots of inconvenience. Typically when baggage is located it would be brought to you, but do not count on it as you can see from my near-miss experience. 

Morocco, Casablanca Luggage Horror Story

This summer I traveled to Casablanca. We planned to Climb Mt Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa after the meeting so I had my climbing gear in my luggage. 

My Plane to Paris (CDG) got late and I missed my connection, being put on another flight later that evening. There was a lot of time between the flights so in theory I should not be worried about my bag making it. In practice though long connections make bags go through different processes increasing the chance of the bag being lost. 

I later discovered Delta’s tracking app never showed my bag offloaded from an incoming plane and if I had noticed it I could have tried to deal with it while in Paris, but after a sleepless night flying in I did not think about that. 

Upon arriving in Casablanca I found my bag had not arrived. I went to report the lost bag and encountered a long line of “happy” customers which is a giveaway for systematic problems with luggage handling. Upon reporting the problem I was told my bag is still in Paris and will be delivered in the next couple of days but I will need to come to the Airport to pick it up… because they do not deliver bags in Casablanca. Kudos to Air France for picking a great local partner! 

The Next Day I received a message in the tracking app that my bag arrived from Paris to Casablanca and I went to the airport to fetch it. There was an even larger line to the counter responsible for bag pickup. They told me that while the bag had arrived they did not really have it in their system, but they were going to get someone to find it and it should be on the conveyor belt in 30 minutes. 

As you might have guessed after 30 minutes nothing happened, and nothing happened an hour later as well. I reached the counter again and they told me not to worry, now they escalated the problem and the bag will come soon.  

As I was waiting for a bag I struck up a conversation with some of the other people who were seemingly in the same situation as I was and found out some of them had been at the Airport since early morning (14+ hours) and some even were spending 3rd day in the airport trying to resolve their luggage problems. I was told they have the “mountain of bags” in their hold and they really just told you the bag was coming so you left them alone but did absolutely nothing to resolve the problem. 

I couldn’t really spend more time on it so I bought minimal equipment I needed for the climb and asked Air France to get the bag sent back to my home as I did not want to try to make it catch me on my trip through Europe. 

Weeks passed by and Air France services reported they had located the bag in Casablanca and it should be sent back to RDU but nothing was happening and local baggage handlers in Morocco said they had no information on the bag. Time is of the essence if I want my bag back, because if the bag is not found during a certain time it is considered lost and cycles out of the lost baggage system. 

At this point, I reached out to a local partner who worked with us at Percona University Morocco and asked him if there was something he could do locally. He sent staff members to the airport and through some native magic, they discovered my bag and could pick it up and send it back to me through DHL. They could have also tried to ask for it to be sent back, but none of us had confidence in the process.

Two and a half months later the bag was finally delivered back home to me! 

I am glad I was able to get most of my stuff back though some electronics ended up being removed as they could not be shipped from Morocco to the US for some reason.

My Learnings from this experience are:

  1. Avoid checked luggage if at all possible
  2. If there are some changes to your travel, check baggage status during connection 
  3. Consider asking your luggage to be sent back home, especially if your destination is at an unreliable airport
  4. Put Airtags into your luggage so you have independent tracking of its location
  5. Avoid electronics in luggage if possible 

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