DAMAGED LUGGAGE

As any seasoned traveler knows — from experience — claims for lost or damaged luggage need to be reported to the offending airline's service center before leaving the airport. But what if the airline doesn't provide appropriate service and compensation? One recourse is to report your complaint to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation. For contact information and instructions, go to http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov. These days, baggage screeners can be a cause of damaged or missing items. If you have a problem, you can contact the Transportation Safety Administration toll-free at (866) 289-9673. Claim forms (form SF95) are available at the TSA Web site, www.tsa.gov.

LOCK IT UP?

Only 5 percent of checked luggage was inspected before September 11, 2001. Today, all bags are inspected. When the electronic scanning system detects something suspicious, or the airport doesn't have electronic scanners, baggage is inspected by hand. If your baggage is locked and authorities can't open it, the lock will be broken. TSA is not liable for damage to locked bags.

STILL WANT A LOCK?

There are “TSA approved” dual-key luggage locks on the market — the owner of the lock has one key and TSA has a master key that opens all the locks in a manufacturer's series.

DON'T CHECK YOUR FILM

Baggage screening equipment ruins undeveloped film. Put undeveloped film and cameras with film in your carry-on.

CREATE AN INVENTORY

Make a complete list of the contents of each bag and carry it somewhere other than in the luggage. If a bag is lost or items are missing, the list makes a loss claim easier.

BRING IT WITH YOU

Of course, knives and sharp scissors are not allowed in carry-on bags, but not everything that cuts or pokes is off-limits. Corkscrews, safety razors, metal scissors with blunt tips, tweezers, and eyeglass repair tools (including screwdrivers) are among the things allowed.

LIMITED LIABILITY

The airlines' liability for lost, damaged, or stolen items is limited to $2,500 per passenger, and they aren't liable at all for cash, cameras, computers, and a whole range of other items. For a list, visit www.tsa.gov.

LUGGAGE (noun) 1. suitcases, trunks, and personal belongings of travelers

Sources: Merriam-Webster Online, www.m-w.com; Transportation Safety Administration, www.tsa.gov; Department of Transportation, http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov

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