NEW YORK - On a recent trip to Egypt, the coffee table books, pottery, and other gifts Lorna Gladstone collected might have turned into a nightmare at the airport baggage check-in.
So she packed her belongings into four suitcases and left them with the hotel concierge to ship home through a service called Luggage Free.
"I can go through security with my handbag and my book," said Gladstone, a retiree living in McLean, Va., who uses the service whenever she travels.
As struggling airlines add extra-luggage fees and travelers worry about growing security restrictions, services like Luggage Forward and Luggage Free have emerged as ways to bypass the hassles of checking bags. While they are typically seen as a luxury, more Americans are using such options for run-of-the-mill trips. Others are simply mailing bags themselves, using the US Postal Service,
Customers load up their suitcases as usual, with no special packaging needed. Shipping slips for luggage are mailed to them (return slips are included if needed). A pickup time is scheduled, usually for a two-hour window. If the bags are being sent to a hotel, the concierge will typically call customers to let them know their belongings have arrived.
Rates vary depending on the weight, distance, and speed of the delivery.
To expand its services among everyday travelers, Luggage Forward last year introduced a seven-day "economy" option that typically costs less than $100 per bag one way.
Such bookings now account for about half the company's domestic shipments.
Since Luggage Forward was established three years ago, sales have grown 300 percent each year, said Zeke Adkins, cofounder of the Boston-based company.
Luggage Free, based in New York City, is seeing similar growth. The number of bags the company shipped has doubled each year since 2004, with shipments reaching around 40,000 last year.
It's no surprise the companies sprang up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when tightened restrictions triggered delays and confusion at airports across the country.
And the growing piles of lost and damaged baggage are only fueling frustration.
Last year, airlines lost 7 bags per 1,000 passengers, according to the Department of Transportation. That's up steadily each year from 2002, when the industry lost 3.8 bags per 1,000 fliers.
The Transportation Security Administration estimates that for each of its employees who touches a bag, six to 10 airline or airport employees and contractors touch the same bag once it's out of the passenger's sight, increasing the chances of loss or theft.