updated 4/5/2011 1:17:22 PM ET 2011-04-05T17:17:22

"Hey, buddy, stuff's falling out of your bag," said a customer in line at the Denver Airport Hertz. My suitcase zipper was ripped, and I was leaving a trail of balled socks and rolled T-shirts.

US Airways had ruined my bag. But beyond ranting to strangers on the Internet (there are enough stories of satanic airlines taking pleasure in stuffing passengers into sardine cans, gleefully destroying baggage and watching us boil as we stumble through the customer service labyrinth), what recourse does a flier have when his bag is destroyed?

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Like most airlines, US Airways requires that passengers report any damage to checked bags at the airport. With US Airways, this must be done within four hours. (Some carriers allow up to 24 hours, but the complaint still has to be made at the airport.) So I zipped back to the baggage claim.

"I'm sorry, sir, we see this happen all the time," said the claim rep. She told me that airlines are not liable for damage to wheels, feet, zippers and extending handles. "When the baggage handlers throw the bags, the zipper rips off the fabric." Do they see a lot of smashed zippers when they gently place the luggage on the belt? She obviously had no answer, but she gave me a number to call and register a complaint.

I was then told to e-mail my story to Central Baggage Resolution, a Phoenix-based office only reachable by e-mail. I imagine CBR as a digital bonfire that's endlessly destroying correspondences. I learned that once CBR receives my claim, it'll be 14 to 21 working days before I hear from them.

As I continue to hold my breath, I've started researching other ways to protect checked bags in the future. My plan of choice is simply to never check a bag, but here's some info I found:

Both third-party insurers and credit card companies sometimes offer baggage insurance. American Express, for instance, offers free and for-fee baggage protection policies for card holders. I called Amex to learn about its $9.95 per roundtrip flight "premium" baggage policy, which covers checked bag damages up to $1,000. Here's how it works, according to the customer rep: "File a claim with the airline at the airport. Get the denial." Then file a claim with AmEx. The claim is reviewed with a licensed rep — but obviously there's no guarantee that they'll rule in your favor. The representative did say, however, that there are technically no exclusions for type of damage, ripped zippers included.

According to Smarter Travel's Ed Perkins, third party insurers can vary widely — and again, it's up to fliers to start with the airline, get the denial (or some coverage if you're lucky) and then file a second claim with the insurer. As always, it's essential to read the fine print to see what the coverage cap is and if there are exclusions for certain types of damage.

Quite honestly, it all seems like a massive hassle. I paid $50 for someone to rip my bag, rendering it unusable without turning it into a silver mummy. I just want my $50 back. And maybe US Airways could throw in the $3.69 for the roll of duct tape.

Video: Don’t bug out! Tips to stay calm when traveling

  1. Closed captioning of: Don’t bug out! Tips to stay calm when traveling

    >>> starts off fine. the sun is shining. the car is packed. kids are quiet. your favorite sole judge is playing on the radio. then your husband does the unthinkable. he reaches over and changes the radio station .

    >> you know how they do. from challenges in the car to rude passengers on the plane, our own sara haines headed over to the nbc experience store to find out exactly what is bugging travelers these days.

    >> when people --

    >> reporter: people have done that to you?

    >> yeah.

    >> getting car sick . i always have to sit in the backseat because i, like, feel bad for other people because they want to sit in the front.

    >> i hate when you're on an airplane and people's headphones are so loud you can, like, hear their music, you know? or, like, when babies are crying or people crack their gum.

    >> girls having to stop every 50 miles to go to the restroom.

    >> reporter: dad, are you exaggerating?

    >> maybe a little bit.

    >> when there's empty seats on the plane and someone sits next to me and takes up all the space.

    >> reporter: is it the company you travel with that annoys you?

    >> pretty much.

    >> yesterday on the train there was a girl in front of us that just the whole time complained about how sick she was on the phone.

    >> the great, great granddaughter of etiquette icon emily post is here with rules of the road .

    >> welcome.

    >> it just has gotten so much worse, hasn't it?

    >> it really has. this has been for about ten years now. last week when i was in the airport, what, these liquids, i can't bring them on the plane? it's 2011 . get with the program.

    >> a lot of time different things do happen when you're flying or traveling. one of them is there's a child that's misbehaving. maybe that kid's sitting behind you. who knows.

    >> the parent or whoever is with them is not doing anything about it.

    >> what should you do?

    >> that is one where you don't want to directly address the child. that's the fastest way to get big mama bear out and cause a scene. best thing to do is either speak with a flight attendant if you can or turn to the parent and say, i'm sorry, would you mind asking your child to stop kicking my seat, please?

    >> asking nicely.

    >> it's why you don't want to say would you ask your child to stop, thank you, right away. that's a little snippy and presumps you.

    >> there's no leg room on planes anyway.

    >> no leg room for you.

    >> when the person in front of me, and i'm here anyway, okay, reclines like this. i find it rude. i know that you're allowed. but why? it's three inches. just sit your seat straight up.

    >> what's really frustrating is that airlines have packed more seats in to get more dollars and everything. what used to be a recline into your lap is now a recline into your face. they haven't disabled that function.

    >> what should you do?

    >> really be considerate of the people behind you.

    >> don't do it?

    >> people are bringing so many bags. one carry-on but it's as big as an elephant.

    >> i know. a lot of times then you get there and they're like, you're going to have to gate check that anyway. it's a big pain in the neck. one thing you can do, first of all prepare yourself. know how big that bag needs to be. know what you're allowed to take in that carry-on to start. the other thing you can do is look in your back pocket. lots of charge cards nowadays have great benefits. i have one that has a $200 airline incidental credit. that gives me a pbaggage fee credit, anything for snacks and drinks on the plane. if i want to buy a movie or something like that. it's really important for you to think ahead and be prepared. think about what you already have that might help you out.

    >> recently our producer, tammy, was talking on the phone -- on the train, in the part you could do that.

    >> okay.

    >> and a guy --

    >> jumped her, practically.

    >> grabbed her arm. what should you do if someone is speaking loudly on the plane. say she was. because she might have been.

    >> first of all, a lot of trains nowadays have quiet cars. move to that quiet car if you want quiet. if it's packed, that's unfortunate. it does happen. so check yourself . be patient. look around. find a way other than grabbing and assaulting someone.

    >> you know what she did? they got up on the same spot and she started to follow the guy. she said i'm going to go to your house and tell your wife how you treat women.

    >> because he was rude. he dropped some bad words .

    >> all of this is coming together to cause someone suggestion


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