Every business traveller and frequent flyer knows the scene. You arrive at your destination but your bag never made it onto your plane. Maybe it's somehow made its way to another airport entirely.
We've all been there, done that and got nothing but the T-shirt we wore on the plane to show for it.
Pack your carry-on bag as if you expect your checked luggage to be delayed.
An analysis of annual Air Transport Industry Baggage Report by Flight Centre found that one piece of luggage for every 100 passengers loses its way at the airport.
This represents 25 million pieces of luggage 'mishandled' around the world per year. 25 million bags that are delayed, damaged and in some cases actually lost (or stolen), never to be seen again.
"For every Boeing 737 aircraft, carrying around 189 passengers, approximately two people aboard will lose an item of luggage," says Flight Centre's Colin Bowman.
I've been blessedly fortunate on my travels. Only once have I had a bag go AWOL en route to another country, and that was due to a too-tight connection at Hong Kong swapping between flights.
That bag arrived the next morning, but left me without a clean change of clothes for a dinner that night – a sin for which the airline coughed up sufficient cash to buy me a new shirt and a quick press of my pants.
Rules to fly by
Lesson one: pack your carry-on bag as if you expect your checked luggage to be lost.
The more you put into your checked luggage the more you stand to be inconvenienced if it goes astray.
Don't go overboard, of course. Just stick to the essentials.
On international flights with a connection, the chance of lost luggage increases dramatically. More than half of the world's lost bags meet their fate during transfers from one aircraft to another.
So on all trips with a transfer I've upgraded from a laptop bag to a roller which stows into the overhead bins.
That gives me room for a clean shirt, a pair of trousers plus a few other items that I'll need on the job.
Here are some more tips to reduce the risk of your bag becoming a statistic in next year's lost luggage report.
Before you get to the airport pull out your smartphone and take a photo of your checked luggage. Keep that photo on your phone. If the bag is lost en route it's much easier to show that photo to the baggage claim desk rather than try than try and describe the bag.
In fact, take some snaps of the contents of the bag as well. Many lost luggage forms ask you to state the contents, and if your bag ends up permanently lost then you'll have a better case with your travel insurance.
Slip your business card in the transparent card window on the bag tag and ensure you remove any previous baggage tags from your case. Keep an eye out for those little barcodes that some airlines peel off the main tag and stick on the back and sides of your luggage.
At the check-in desk
Doing the self-check in and bag-drop routine? Make sure to peel off all the backing from the tag's adhesive section. Don't leave a strip waving in the breeze, because the tag is more likely to fall off - or be yanked off by the moving parts in the baggage system.
If you're entitled to a priority bag tag because you're flying in business or first class, or are a top-tier frequent flyer with your airline, make sure the check-in staff attach the appropriate fluorescent priority tag.
Considering that 85 per cent of all mishandled bags were delayed or diverted at the point of baggage handling, that tag could be what keeps your bag on the right track.
Check in staff sometimes overlook tagging based on your frequent flyer status when you're flying with an airline which belongs to the same alliance as the one responsible for your status. For example, if you're a Qantas Platinum on an American Airlines, BA or Cathay Pacific flight, you may have to ask for your bags to be appropriately tagged.
If you're in the market for new luggage, buy coloured or patterned bags that will stand out from the crowd. A black 22-inch wheeled carry-on bag in a pile of lost luggage is like a needle in a haystack.
I've even heard of passengers who've had their non-descript black bag taken off a plane because it was assumed to be the black bag of a 'fail to board' passenger who didn't show up for the flight.
Avoid tying loose ribbons to your black bag, however. These are more likely to get your bag stuck in the luggage system.
What's your experience with lost luggage? How have you fared with airline reimbursement and what are your own tips for helping your bags end up on the same flight as you?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.