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Before I begin, let me say that this is not intended to be a topic suggesting on what items of clothing you should pack for a cruise, because that can depend on the type of sailing you have booked and the destinations to be visited, but more on how to pack should you have to travel a long distance by air to join that beautiful ship.
OK, so as many of us have to fly to join the cruise ship that is to be our home for a while, be that a few days, a week or even longer then this may be of assistance.
This article isn’t meant to be a definitive list of do’s and don’ts but a suggested ‘best practice’ from our learnings over 15 years of flying into the departure port to meet our cruise ship, and that includes even when sailing from our home country, the UK!
Now bearing in mind that being on a ship means that if something should happen to your luggage en-route and an airline has to get it to you after you have arrived at your destination, you are a moving target which adds complexity to the issue.
It’s worth remembering that although an airline has a responsibility on getting you reunited with your bags should they get delayed or misdirected, in most cases they do not have a responsibility to get them to you in a specific timeframe.
Over many years of flying to locations for business, I’ve had many times when my bag hasn’t greeted me in the baggage hall but travelling to one city isn’t as stressful as sailing away from your airport of arrival!
Having learnt the hard way, due to issues with an airline and particular airport, when neither of us had no bags for up to 5 days of an 8-day sailing. Hopefully, these tips will help you have a stress free journey to board that fantastic vessel and start your cruise relaxed.
Due to airline limitations, especially if using low-cost carriers, it may not be possible to take all your necessary clothing as hand baggage (carry-on). Unless you pay supplements on top of your airfare, in many cases these days (especially with a lot of European airlines), you may not even be guaranteed to be able to take all your hand baggage onto the aircraft and into the cabin due to space limitations in the overhead bins. Some only allow a bag the size of a laptop or purse.
Many airlines reserve the right to take your cabin bags off you at the boarding gate and place them in the hold, mostly for no fee, but more frequently, unless you have paid a supplement at the time of booking to ensure you can take it on board, they could also charge you extra at the gate.
In addition, hand baggage limits can be very restrictive, not only in terms of bag sizes but also weight. Some airlines now allow as little as 5kgs (11lbs) to be carried on board, others can be more generous, but still, have size limits for the bag.
Add to the mix the limitations on liquids, due to security issues, this can affect your decision on what you take into the aircraft cabin, especially when staying away for a long period.
So here are some hints and tips to make your journey a little less for increased security checks before you board the plane, possible lengthy transfers to the port once you have arrived at your destination and then checking in for the cruise!
- Fly direct whenever possible. I know this isn’t always practical, but if you can, this does reduce the possibility of your checked baggage missing your onward connection due to delays in arriving at your changeover airport. In most cases, even with a reduced connection time, you’ll board your next flight, but your bags may not!
- Make your checked bags easy to identify. If possible, use bags that are perhaps an unusual colour, think of how many bags look the same going around on that baggage belt – black! Perhaps use a coloured strap that has a TSA approved combination lock, there are so many available online or in stores for a reasonable price. Or put a sticker on your bag that makes it stand out and be easily recognisable to others that it is NOT theirs! As implied above, it’s not the airline that always mislays your bag, but someone picks it up in error from the carousel thinking it is theirs. So, before you know it, it’s on the way out of the building. True story, this did happen to me many years ago after a 26-hour journey to Australia on my own! It was tracked down when the person realised their mistake, but it still took another 2 days to get it back to me! But at least I was in Sydney, not sailing off into the sunset with a cocktail in hand!
- Arriving at least 1 day before sailing if it is practical gives any airline more time to get your delayed bags to you before checking in for your cruise! It also gives you time to purchase any essential items that have not arrived with you before you check in and get onboard the ship.
- If possible, take more than 1 piece of luggage that you are going to check into the aircraft hold dividing your clothes across each bag.
- If that is not possible, consider checking 1 bag onto the flight and taking as big a bag as allowed for your hand luggage onto the plane, containing a change of clothes that can see you over any potential delay in receiving your main suitcase.
- When packing, sort your clothes into “outfits” if there are some items that must be worn together and place them in the same bag so you don’t end up with things you can’t wear because you haven’t got the rest of the ensemble.
- If there are more than one of you travelling together, consider “cross packing” where you each take some of the other’s clothes so that if one bag gets delayed, the other contains items for each of you.
- Compile a list of the contents of your suitcases. The airline may ask you for examples of what is in your bag in order to identify it when they locate it. If the worst happens, and your bag is not found and is treated as lost, you will definitely need to be able to produce a list of the contents for reimbursement/replacement by either the airline or your insurance company. There are numerous free “apps” available to help you compile a “packing list”.
- Produce an “itinerary” containing all your travel plans from the minute you leave home including as a minimum
a. the booking references of all pre-flight, pre and post-cruise hotels, property addresses, and hotel contact telephone numbers
b. all flight booking codes, flight numbers, airports and departure and arrival times
c. most importantly your cruise details (Cruise line, Ship, departure port, stateroom number, booking reference, and itinerary including the arrival and departure times at all ports)
d. also include your home address and telephone contact number in case your bag gets delayed on the way home!
- Place a copy of this itinerary inside each of your bags to be checked into the aircraft hold. So, should your flight baggage tags get removed from your suitcases, the airline and security services can determine your movements if they open your bags. Carry another copy in your hand baggage so you can easily advise the airline of your location over the coming days.
- This may sound ridiculous but take a photograph of your bags before you leave home and keep it handy on your mobile phone (if you have one) as this can help should you have to describe it to the airline if they have trouble identifying it.
- If your bag does not arrive onto the carousel in the arrivals hall, make sure you report it to the airline handling agents BEFORE you leave the baggage claim area. It is essential you receive a “Property Irregularity Report” commonly referred to as a PIR, with a tracking reference that you can use when contacting the airline to obtain a progress report on the status of your bag delivery.
- In most instances when you report the fact that your bag hasn’t arrived onto the carousel, the airline already knows that it is in transit and have an expected date and time of arrival if it wasn’t loaded onto the aircraft in time for your initial departure. If this is the case, then make sure you are really clear on where they must deliver it to once it arrives at the airport. Sometimes airlines will send bags on another airline, so don’t automatically assume it is coming on another flight of the airline you have just disembarked. If you know that there are no more flights that day by the airline you have travelled with, make sure you ask if the airline intends to or can send it by another carrier.
- Make sure you get a link to the baggage tracing website so you can check progress using the reference number you’ve been given as it can sometimes be a challenge to contact the airline by telephone, due to reduced airport opening hours and your location.
- If the worst happens and your bag doesn’t arrive in time before you set sail, don’t despair. This often happens and cruise staff are experienced in working with the airlines and port agents to get your bag to you.
- When you board the ship, go to Guest Relations or Concierge and advise them that your bag has been delayed and provide them with the details of the “Property Irregularity Report” so that they can follow this up with the airline.
We had a fantastic Concierge on the ship we boarded with no checked bags at all! She contacted the airline every single day on our behalf until both bags arrived. Once the airline advised where and when the bags were to arrive (1 arrived at one airport and the other at another airport on a different day) she liaised with the local port agent. They had to then go to the airport to collect the bags after they had been cleared by the authorities and bring them to the ship. Once at the ship, and they were cleared by security they were finally delivered to our stateroom by our fantastic steward who was also made aware by staff that we were awaiting delayed bags.
- If you get updates from the airline whilst you’re onboard, just make sure you let the member of staff who is handling the situation on your behalf know.
Finally, a few things you should NOT do!
- Don’t pack any prohibited items in your bags. Check the lists provided by all cruise lines, either in the cruise documentation or on their website in the FAQ’s.
- Don’t pack any essential medication in your checked bags if you can help it. Remember, if you have little time in port before you have to board the ship, you may not be able to obtain replacements, especially if you need prescription medication. These may not be available in the country/city you arrive into.
- Don’t pack any important travel documentation in your checked bags. You may not need it until you arrive at your destination and transfer to the port, but if it’s delayed it could cause you unnecessary stress.
- Don’t put your cruise luggage tags on your checked bags before you fly, these are only needed before you head off to the port.
- Don’t put a tag on your bag that you would be upset about losing if it gets detached and falls off. Many get trapped and accidentally ripped off during the many miles your bag travels around the baggage system to/from the aircraft. A tag could also cause your bag to get damaged in the machinery and again this will mean the damage will need reporting/replacing and if time is tight, this could prove stressful.
- Don’t put any phone/tablet/laptop chargers in your checked bags. If they don’t arrive and you can’t obtain replacements before you board the ship, and your batteries go flat, you may not be able to be contacted by the airline with updates on the progress of the tracking/tracing of your bag.