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August 2005 Vol. 31, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Your Checked Dive Bag Disappears:

the smart diver’s c.y.a. strategy

from the August, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Lost dive bags are a traveling diver's worst nightmare. Luggagerelated complaints lodged with the Department of Transportation are soaring, according to Condé Nast Traveler. In August 2002, baggage claims represented 6.9% of all grievances against airlines. By August 2004, luggage-related claims had tripled to 20 percent of all complaints.

When Your Checked Dive Bag Disappears

" ...his Sherwood regulator had been smashed, but
American Airlines told him it would not have been
covered since his soft bag didn't show any damage."

Arriving at your destination without your gear can affect your entire trip, as Pat Cisar (Alberta, Canada) found on a trip to Roatan, Honduras. hough Continental had assured Cisar that a 50 minute layover in Houston was sufficient time to transfer his luggage, "my dive bags did not make the change." However, on Roatan, an Anthony's Key Resort staffer retrieved the bags the next day. Cisar says "the resort let me use dive equipment at no cost to ensure I did not miss dives (only difference really was the dive shop stuff was new)."

When Air France failed to put Carlo Casana's dive bag on a flight from Milan to Mexico City, he didn't have time to wait for the next flight because he had to fly to Cabo San Lucas to join a Solmar V cruise. He hurried around Cabo and found gear to rent for the week trip.

Aric Davis (Newport, RI) arrived at San Pedro Sula on American Airlines, but his dive bag didn't. AA in Honduras promised to call him soon, then a week later faxed him a document for filing a claim. He returned it, but never heard back. A week later, Davis called AA in Texas and was told that they had no record of his missing gear. "Luckily," he says, "Pura Vida Resort has great rental equipment." Days later Davis went to the Roatan airport to change his flight and stopped by the customs office and there was his bag, with his business card in plain view. An agent told him it had arrived a week previously and was "surprised" no one had notified him.

So, report your claims for missing bags at the airport upon arrival and try to enjoy the vacation. If your baggage doesn't arrive and you can get back to the airport to check, do so. There may be little incentive in a sleepy airport to track you down.

Sometimes resort or live-aboard staff can intercede with local officials. When Deb Frost (Tiburon, CA) arrived in Pt. Moresby, PNG, her luggage didn't. Frost enlisted help from Golden Dawn staff who knew how to keep after the Air Nuigini agent to ensure her baggage got priority handling. When it arrived two days late, a Golden Dawn rep picked it up at the airport and brought it out to the boat.

To Check or Not to Check

Opinions vary about whether to check bags through or transfer them yourself. Ken Knezick, president of Island Dreams Travel (Houston, TX) advises: "When interline connections are involved, the safest route is to collect one's bags from the baggage carousel, haul them to the next airline and check them in yourself. This eliminates one black hole along the way." Knezick adds, "If a bag still fails to arrive as expected, there will be no question which airline had charge of it."

But Cindi LaRaia, who runs Dive Discovery in San Rafael, CA, believes that baggage handling has improved. She suggests that her clients check baggage through to their final destination, but leaves it to each individual to decide.

Michael Hofman (San Francisco) says he has had good luck throughchecking his bags. "We saved an hour or two [of waiting in long lines] by checking our luggage at San Francisco on the way to LA for connections in the South Pacific." To conform to the 44-50 lb. international weight limits, Hofman split his stuff into two lightweight duffels and "an old-fashioned fold-up luggage cart that held 100 lbs."

But if your baggage is checked through, other problems can occur. A delay in Lori Rocheleau's November United flight from Boston caused her to miss her Air Pacific connection from Los Angeles to Fiji. She was unable to get her luggage "because it was checked through and the Air Pacific counter was closed. They had no flights for three days." So, Rocheleau (Paxton, MA) "flew to Honolulu, which we paid for, to meet an Air Pacific flight to Fiji. Air Pacific didn't charge us for the flight change and the Beqa Lagoon Resort kindly extended our stay." They also lent and rented her dive gear and did her laundry.

With carry-on luggage seriously limited in coach class, a traveling diver must consider carefully what he carries aboard. There is only one rule: carry on your pharmaceuticals and anything you must have once you land. After that, consider your destination. Most land operations have plenty of rental gear, so pack it all, except your prescription mask and perhaps your computer. Your regulator will not get damaged if packed carefully in a dive bag, so pack it too.

Carry on enough "emergency supplies" to survive at least 24 hours without your bags. That means a set of tropical clothes, including sandals, your bathing suit, and toiletries you cannot purchase along the way.

If you're a photographer and headed to a liveaboard where delayed luggage may never catch up to you, you may want to get as much photo gear into the passenger cabin as you can. You can usualy expect your stuff to catch up with you in the Caribbean, Fiji, and similar places, but if you're off on the Bilikiki or the Manthiri or some other distant liveaboard, there is an outside chance that what you carry on the flight is all you'll carry on the boat.

Smart live-aboard travelers do arrive at least 24 hours before the boat departs, in case there is a late connection or a missed flight (many live-aboards won't wait for you). That's usually enough time for your bags to catch up with you, so you don't have to scramble to get outfitted. And it gives you a head start wiping out jet lag.

If what you carry on is critical, spring for business or first class. You're allowed at least two carry-ons, maybe a small third one if you smile a lot.

Trip Insurance

While it's no consolation when your dive boat is in the middle of the Indian Ocean while your gear is still on land, you can generally get compensated. But, even travel and baggage insurance may not be satisfactory.

Flying home from the Bahamas, Warren Platz's luggage didn't arrive at LaGuardia until two days later. Platz was carrying American Express trip and baggage insurance but says he "couldn't buy even a clean pair of underwear on them because there was no 'delay' (as opposed to lost or damaged) coverage on the way home."

Mike Elsner, who runs Blue Ocean Divers in Binghamton, NY., did not have his luggage upon arriving late in Philadelphia on an Air Jamaica flight from Montego Bay. Missing items included his Inspiration rebreather, open circuit equipment, dive computer, gas analyzer, canister lights, and other gear. Elsner's luggage was finally returned about two months later. Meanwhile, he'd been forced to purchase another rebreather to complete his instruction commitments. "This matter is not settled with Air Jamaica," says Elsner, noting, "I incurred costs of about $10,000."

Damaged Goods
Airlines don't make it easy to get restitution for damaged bags or their contents. First, they normally require that you file a report within 24 hours of arrival. They limit their lost or damaged luggage liability to $2500/ passenger, with plenty of exclusions. And note this: besides excluding jewelry, cash, documents and other valuables, they generally exclude photographic equipment and electronic gear as well

Richard Morrison (Salina, KS) missed American Airlines' 24-hour reporting period, because he didn't schedule a dive until the third day of his Cabo San Lucas trip, so he didn't discover that his Sherwood regulator had been "totally smashed" until it was too late. AA's baggage office later told him it would not have been covered anyway since his soft bag didn't show any damage.

Think Ahead

So, when you're packing for your next trip, think carefully about your immediate needs at your destination. Learn ahead of time what dive gear you can buy or rent on the other end, and pack accordingly. Most likely, all your gear and luggage will arrive with you and intact. If it doesn't, at least you can get through the first two days without having to walk around in a borrowed bathing suit and wingtips.

In the next issue, we'll look at some diver problems and abuses occurring at security checkpoints, and describe what you can do about them.

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