The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers
February 23, 1994 -- The road can be cruel and bad things can happen to good travelers.

Maybe your luggage will go awry. Or you'll lose a credit card or have it stolen. And, now, we even have to worry about blood if we get into an accident overseas.

How can you handle these annoying, financially frustrating and possible life-threatening developments? Here are some thoughts.

Contrary to popular belief, the airlines don't lose much of our luggage. According to the Department of Transportation, in fact, domestic airlines "mishandle" only about five bags for every 1,000 passengers. And most of those bags aren't really lost, simply delayed. But here's how to lessen the chances an airline will mishandle your bags--and what to do if the worst happens.

Tag it Put your name, address and phone number on tags outside and inside your bags. Note each bag's primary contents, as well as its brand name, color, size, and type (i.e. pullman, garment bag, etc.)

Never check valuables Airline liability for lost luggage is limited to $1,250 on domestic flights or about $9 per pound on international flights. Always pack essentials like medication (and extra undies) in your carry-on bag.

Letter logic Learn the unique three-letter code for your destination airport (ask your travel agent) and make sure the airline affixes the proper routing tag on your bag. Pay attention: a bag tagged IAH is headed to Houston's Intercontinental Airport, but luggage marked IAD is going to Dulles Airport near Washington. Similarly, a bag going to LGA is headed to New York's LaGuardia Airport, but checked luggage tagged LGW is going to London's Gatwick Airport.

Act fast If your luggage doesn't arrive with your flight, go to the baggage service counter and fill out a report. Be specific and make sure the report includes the name and phone number of your hotel. Most "lost" bags are found within hours and the airline will contact you at the hotel.

Get the forms Before you leave the counter, obtain the proper forms and understand the airline's procedures for filing a lost baggage claim. If your luggage isn't delivered in a few days, file for compensation.

Reporting a lost or stolen credit card is less stressful if you know the card's number, expiration date and name of the financial institution that issued the card. Make a list of that information for all the cards you carry, then put the list somewhere safe. Safe places for travelers: a dopp kit, a jewelry case, or taped to the inside of a piece of luggage.

Make the call If you lose a card, call the appropriate emergency number: 800-336-8472 for Visa; 800-MC-Assist for MasterCard; and 800-528-4800 for American Express. Before you travel overseas, however, check with the card issuer for an applicable phone number.

Know your rights If your credit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50. Never try to use a card for any reason after you've reported it lost or stolen.

Replacement Rules Card issuers can often replace a lost card within one business day and usually help with on-the-spot emergency credit. But never keep all your credit cards in one place when you're traveling. That will ensure you'll always have backup credit if you've lost or misplaced a card.

Traveling overseas always carries some degree of medical risk, but the worldwide spread of AIDS adds new worries. How "good" is the world's blood supply? Do travelers in a foreign nation face an unacceptably high risk of exposure to the AIDS virus or viral hepatitis when they need a blood?

The answer, medical experts say, depends on where you travel. As in the United States, blood is carefully screened for AIDS and other infections in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and Asian destinations such as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Elsewhere, however, the blood supply is less secure.

"Wherever you fear the quality of medicine is not up to Western standards, it is also wise to be concerned about the blood supply," suggests Michael Kelly, president of International SOS, a supplier of travel medicine services. Adds Dr. James H. Runnels of the Baylor College of Medicine: "The poorer the country, the greater the risk" of contaminated blood.

If travelers are injured where the blood supply is questionable, often the only safe alternative is evacuation, says Dr. Bradley Connor of Travel Health Services. But evacuation is costly--tens of thousands of dollars in some cases--so travelers must prepare in advance for the contingency.

Arrange evacuation coverage European travelers routinely purchase this, but Americans are rarely as wise. That's too bad because the cost of a package of medical services is negligible. For just $40 for a 14-day trip, for example, International SOS (800-523-8930) offers a package that includes pre-trip medical planning; emergency medication; on-site, English-speaking doctors when necessary; and, of course, emergency medical evacuation. The SOS plan does not exclude pre-existing conditions and there is no dollar limit on the value of the services provided. Couples traveling together can buy the same coverage for $70; families pay $110. Other firms that sell similar packages are US Assist (800-756-5900) and Travel Assistance International (800-821-2828).

Check your cards If you didn't purchase evacuation coverage before departure, look to your credit cards for help if you need to make emergency arrangements. American Express cards and gold MasterCard and Visa cards offer evacuation assistance numbers. The cards won't cover your costs, but they will help you make evacuation arrangements and ensure the fees are billed to your account.

Buy a security kit In many poorer countries, health professionals often must reuse disposable supplies. To circumvent this potentially life-threatening condition, carry your own disposable medical basics. International SOS's portable Steri-Safe Medical Kit sells for $39.95. It includes a generous supply of latex gloves, suture and needles, syringes, swabs and other essentials.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.