For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox

Sign Up Now!

. During a recent trip to Exmouth, Australia, I experienced several issues with airlines and customs that might be of interest to fellow anglers who travel. I pack as many rods as possible in a D.B. Dunn rod case that is 39 inches long, and I take it into the passenger cabin with me. I do that because, many years ago, I had the experience of arriving at a lodge without my rods.

On my recent trip, Qantas personnel at Perth Airport in western Australia told me that I couldn’t carry my case on the plane because security wouldn’t allow it. I would have to pay to check it. After much discussion, they checked with security personnel, who said I could carry the case on the plane. On the return trip, when I checked in at the Singapore Airlines desk in Perth, they also said I couldn’t carry the case on the plane, and it would cost $250 to check it as a third bag. They, too, said that security personnel in Perth wouldn’t allow me to carry the case on the plane. Again, after much discussion, I asked them to check with security personnel, who again allowed the case to be carried on the plane. The point is that airline personnel appear to be making decisions that can be costly to passengers and lucrative to them. I have found security personnel to be reasonable when they realize that the case contains only fragile fly rods, though they do tend to be concerned about lines or hooks in a rod case.

Now for the worst part of my experience: When I arrived in Houston on my return trip, only one of my checked bags showed up. After filing a missing bag report, I was told to call the United Baggage Resolution Center, which is located in India. I was told that if I couldn’t understand the person on the other end to hang up and call back. Two days later, I received an e-mail from the United Baggage Center in Beijing, China, saying they had my bag but they couldn’t forward it because it contained a cigarette lighter. I e-mailed them, instructing them to throw the lighter away and send the bag. No, they couldn’t do that without my filling out a special form allowing them to remove an item from my bag. So, I completed the form and sent it to them expecting my bag to be forwarded. A few days later, when the bag didn’t arrive, I called the United Baggage Resolution Center and was told that my bag wasn’t in Beijing, and they didn’t know where it was. The next day I called the Baggage Resolution Center again and was told the bag had been sent to Amarillo, Texas, the night before. I went to the airport there to find that the bag hadn’t arrived, and United Airlines had no idea where it was. I was told to file a lost bag claim. This is where my education began.

In over 50 years of air travel, I had never lost a bag before this recent event. Consequently, I guess I had become very complacent about things like documenting the contents in a bag, etc. My first shock was finding out that for international travel, United Airlines was only liable for $9.07 per pound. Since my bag weighed 43 pounds, the most I could receive was $390.01. The bag alone (a Rodeo 31 Fishpond Rolling Duffel) cost over $400 with taxes. In addition, the bag contained two rods, about 12 lines, a lot of expensive clothing, and other fishing equipment. Replacing these items will cost me several thousand dollars. The next frustration occurred when I realized that I had to supply original proof-of-purchase documentation for any item valued at more than $100. I have spent a lot of time recently asking vendors to provide proof of purchase, since I don’t tend to save invoices. Some vendors simply don’t have the information required. I did take out travel insurance on this trip; however, I found these policies won’t cover my loss. For example, I paid for trip insurance available through United Airlines (Allianz Global Assistance). Turns out they don’t cover lost bags, but if I had had to buy toothpaste because my bag was lost, they would pay for it. Fortunately, I also bought a policy from Travel Guard. That will help, but the maximum they’ll pay for lost baggage is $1,000. In sum, the insurance payout will still leave me with an out-ofpocket expense of well over $2,000. One thing I could have done, I guess, was declare a higher value for the contents of my luggage when I checked in. That would have cost me extra, but it may have been a good option given the cost of good fly fishing equipment.

A key point is that this entire episode was probably caused by a disposable Bic lighter worth $1.29. I knew that it was forbidden to have a lighter in your carry-on, but I thought you could have a lighter in your checked luggage. Since this mess occurred, I have reviewed the regulations, and, technically, the guys in Beijing were right: it is illegal to have a lighter in either carry-on or checked luggage.

The truly odd thing to me is my bag went through customs in Beijing even though I didn’t, and that is where they found the lighter. That bag had cleared U.S. security twice, Australian security three times, and Thailand security once before Chinese customs red-tagged it. The most frustrating thing has been working with United Airlines. They just can’t get their story straight. They have told me twice they know the location of my bag, and it is in transit to me. Both times this turned out to be wrong.

The really important point of this story is that we all need to think about the value of our equipment and insure that it is covered in case our bag is lost.—Danny Simms.

Don Causey Note: Where does one start reacting to Danny Simms’s note? By seconding his suggestion, I guess, that, on complicated, international trips, you may want to declare that your baggage has extra value and insure it for that value. Just be aware that you need to read the rules relating to that coverage very carefully. Indeed, as Simms reports, you will likely have to document the value of any items that are lost. Also, the insurance you buy will be valid only on the airline that sells you the coverage. If you transfer to another airline en route, you will need to claim your bag, recheck it, and insure it again with that second carrier. And be aware that there is a ceiling on how much coverage you can buy, and that ceiling includes the amount the airline would pay if you don’t buy extra coverage. At least all of that is what the American Airlines website says under its Conditions of Carriage. The airline you plan to use may have entirely different rules and insurance rates. Extra baggage insurance on American costs $2 per $100 of declared value, by the way, and the total you can buy is $5,000. One area of relief that Simms does not mention is homeowners insurance. In some circumstances, homeowners insurance will compensate you for baggage losses. I am looking into that side of things and will pass on what I learn. In the meantime, if you have had an instructive baggage experience or just have useful information, please weigh in. One rule I have followed personally over the years when I travel internationally is to try to check my bags only one airport at a time, at least on the outgoing leg, because I want to have rods to fish with when I arrive at my destination.

Yes, it’s a bit maddening and time-consuming to claim your bag in London, for example, and rush over to the South African Airways counter to re-recheck it. But doing so keeps your bags out of the chaotic interline system, which is where most bags seem to get seriously lost. All but the dumbest airlines seem to be able to carry your bags, most of the time, from airport A to airport B and hurl them onto the conveyor belt so you can pick them up.

What a lot of them don’t seem to be able to do is transfer bags from their baggage system to another airline’s baggage system.

The more disorganized the country you are passing through is, the more likely your bag is to get lost. I shudder to think what might happen if I checked my bags all the way from New York to Seychelles with a connection or two in the Mideast! I’m almost afraid to say this, but I have never lost a bag—or a gun case—by following my one-airportat- a-time rule. I say that having edited a hunting newsletter for 25 years, as well as this fishing newsletter for almost as long. In all that time, I have made hundreds of trips overseas with duffle bags, suitcases, rifles, rod cases—you name it, and (Knock on wood!) I have never had a bag get lost. It’s a real pain following the rule I have outlined here, but you may want to consider it. For sure, I am going to follow it on my upcoming trip to Hawaii on United Airlines by scheduling plenty of time to claim my bag and recheck it between my Miami/Los Angeles flight on American and my flight on to Hilo with United. I am hearing truly dreadful stories about United these days, which of course is the airline that gave Danny Simms so much trouble. Ironically, his note appeared in my e-mail box the very day United Airlines added more than $80 to the price of my ticket to Hawaii for a policy with Allianz Global Assistance, the company whose coverage would have paid Simms for toothpaste he had to buy after his baggage was lost but nothing for the lost baggage itself. I did not order the policy; it just appeared in the e-mail confirming my purchase of the ticket.

I had to reach out to Allianz Global Assistance to get the policy canceled and the charge removed. United Airlines won itself top spot in my personal warning list by adding that charge to my ticket. Beware of United! You can weigh in on all this at: [email protected].

Previous reading
14-pound Bonefish Caught on Grand Bahama Island
Next reading
Legal Fishing in Cuba May Be On the Horizon