Let me tell you a cautionary tale: Once upon a time, a lovely couple (we’ll call them Mom and Dad) flew from Boston to Washington, D.C.
They did not want to drag their belongings through the airport, so they checked their bags. Since the flight was so short and they did not need many items for the flight itself, they packed everything into their checked bags, including a tablet, eyeglasses and a handicapped placard for the car.
Then JetBlue sent one of their bags to Detroit.
The couple was distraught. Would someone steal their tablet? Would they need to spend hours at the DMV applying for a new handicap placard? Would a nearby store have Dad’s size if he needed to buy clothes for the next day?
This tale comes with a happy ending. JetBlue was able to send the bag to D.C. on its partner airline, American, arriving a little more than 24 hours after its unexpected Midwest trip. No belongings went missing, and the suitcase was unharmed.
However, our couple learned a valuable lesson that day: No matter how short your flight is, you should never pack anything in a checked bag that you absolutely need for your trip or is valuable and could get stolen.
Just because your flight is only an hour or two long does not mean that your luggage won’t go on a longer journey — and possibly never come home at all.
Learn from this real-life tale: Of all the many things the airlines will allow you to bring, here are five things you should never pack in a checked bag.
If you can only carry one thing on board with you, make it your prescription medicine. You likely need these pills to remain healthy or make it through the day. If you skip a day or two, you might experience adverse side effects or experience withdrawal symptoms.
It’s not always easy to refill prescriptions should you check your meds and your bag gets lost. Depending on your health insurance, you may be able to get a doctor to call in a new prescription to a local pharmacy. That becomes trickier if it’s a weekend or holiday, or if your medication does not allow for refills before the previous prescription runs out.
Pill bottles generally aren’t heavy or bulky, so don’t chance it — always carry them on your person when you travel.
Many airport workers — and travelers — will have access to your bags once you check them, and while most are trustworthy, not everyone is.
Every time you pack a tablet, computer, video game device or other electronics in a checked bag, you risk having them stolen. Or, if your bag goes missing and never comes back to you, those expensive items (possibly with important data on them) are lost forever.
When you travel, pack electronics in your carry-on bag or leave them at home.
The same principle applies to valuables, such as jewelry or cash, or even items with significant personal value. If it would be a financial or emotional loss should those items go missing, don’t put them in a suitcase that’s going to travel separately from you. Keep them with you on the flight.
Think of the items you need to make it through the day and put those in your carry-on as well. Ideally, you would not check your eyeglasses, hearing aids, night guard or your child’s must-have lovey or fidget toy.
Airlines typically do not count medical and assistive devices (CPAP machines, breast pumps, etc.) toward your one carry-on bag and personal item allotment, so you are not forced to put them in your checked luggage if you’re concerned about space.
If you can’t quickly and easily purchase an item at your destination, do not pack it in your checked bag. For example, I always carry on my curly hair styling gel (in a 3-ounce, Transportation Security Administration-approved bottle) because it’s hard to find and drugstore products won’t do.
If you’re a hard-to-find clothing size, consider packing at least one outfit in your rollaboard so you have a change of clothes should your checked bag go missing. Travelers with dietary restrictions should probably avoid checking their special vegan or gluten-free snacks if traveling to a location where such food items will be hard or impossible to find.
Even if you believe firmly in the value of a checked bag, you want to always carry on the items you can’t live without and can’t easily buy at your destination, as well as expensive or meaningful items that would pain you to lose.
Remember that even if your flight is a quick hop, your checked bags are as likely to go missing as on a longer nonstop flight — and might even travel a greater distance than you did.
You will be better able to manage a misplaced bag situation if you don’t pack anything irreplaceable or absolutely necessary in your checked luggage.