Lost Suitcase

What to Do When Your Luggage Is Lost

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I can think of nothing more disruptive and stressful than turning up to baggage claim after your flight and not finding your checked bag. The odds of this happening are very slim though, but it’s still wise to be aware of what you should do if this ever happens to you.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), internationally 99.5% of all checked baggage travels with the passenger without any issues, and most bags which are delayed are returned to the passenger within 48 hours. This statistic continues to improve as better systems and practices are developed.

This is of no comfort though If you do fall within the 0.5% where your bag is delayed or lost. It can have quite a severe impact on your trip.

In this post, we’ll explain what you should do if you discover that your checked bag is missing at baggage claim.

Confirm That Your Bag Is Missing

We’ve all been there – you have just left the plane and followed the airport signs to claim your baggage. Once arriving at the designated carousel for your flight, you wait as all manner of baggage comes pouring out onto the belt (resisting the temptation to judge fellow passengers’ bag choices). You earnestly peer along the trail of bags, to be reunited with your beloved bag, waiting, waiting, …

Read on, fellow traveler, for now is not the time to panic.

Be Patient While Waiting at Baggage Claim for Your Bags

At some busier airports, it can take up to an hour for baggage to arrive on the baggage claim carousel.

Baggage can be deposited on the carousel in batches, so your bags may not appear right away.

Look Elsewhere in the Airport for Your Checked Bags

If no further bags appear on the carousel for your flight, your bag may have been deposited into another carousel by mistake. Have a look around the baggage claim area to see if your bag is in another location.

This happened to me once at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I found my checked bag on another carousel nearby. I suspect that another passenger picked up my bag by mistake. When they realized their error, they deposited it at the closest carousel.

Also, the airline may have delivered your bag on an earlier flight.

If your airline offers an online baggage tracking service, check their website or app for your bag’s recorded location.

Inform the Airline of Your Missing Bags

After having no luck in finding your bag, it is time to inform the airline. They are now responsible for finding your bag.

Report your missing baggage to the airline at once, before leaving the airport.

Locate Your Airline’s Baggage Claim Desk

If your itinerary was with the same carrier, then the airline baggage claim desk that you need to go to is clear. On the other hand, if you were on a connecting flight with different airlines, then you need to contact the airline of your last flight.

If you cannot find the baggage desk for your airline, enquire at the airport’s information desk.

Inform an Airline Agent About Your Missing Bag

Once you have found where you need to report your missing baggage, inform the agent that your checked bag did not arrive as expected. Even though you may be feeling extremely frustrated because of your missing bag, it pays to be polite and respectful when engaging with the airline.

Present your copy of the baggage tags that you received at check-in so that the agent can look up the status of your bag. It is possible that your bag may be on a later flight.

Submit a Delayed Baggage Report

If the airline agent can’t provide any information regarding the location of your bag, you will need to complete a delayed baggage report.

Include as much information as possible about your missing bag and your travel plans. If you created a delayed baggage email draft as recommended in our How to Avoid Losing Your Checked Bags post, you can send it to the airline.

Supply a detailed description of the brand, size dimensions, color, material, luggage tags, and any other significant identifiers. If you prudently took photos of the exterior and interior of your packed bag prior to your trip, you could supply these as well.

Make sure that the report includes your local contact information.

Request a contact number for the airline’s lost baggage department and a reference number, so that you can follow up after you have left the airport.

Request a copy of the report as evidence of your lodgment.

Request the Airline Deliver the Baggage to You

When filing your report, ask the airline agent to have the baggage delivered to you once it is found. If the agent asks you to return to the airport to retrieve your bag, respectfully reaffirm your request that they be sent to you.

Even if the agent says that your baggage will arrive on the next flight, decline a request to wait at the airport. The airline is now responsible for reuniting you with your bags and delivering them to you.

You can provide the address of your home or hotel. This will save you the inconvenience of having to return to the airport. Most airlines will deliver your baggage for free, but it’s prudent to confirm that this is the case.

Request a Refund for Your Checked Bag Fees

If your checked bag is missing, this would indicate that it was not transported on the plane. Therefore, if you had paid a fee to check your bag, you should request a refund. If you did not pay a fee (i.e., the airline offers complimentary baggage allowance), reimbursement is not applicable.

Retain Records of Incidental Purchases for Reimbursement

As your checked bag may have held all the essentials needed for your trip, you will need to buy replacement items while waiting for your bags to be recovered. Make sure that you keep receipts of the purchases made and then request reimbursement from the airline.

Airlines aren’t allowed to set an amount for these expenses but be mindful that they will only refund reasonable purchases. This isn’t the time to go out to buy luxury items.

When you are completing your report, ask the agent for a list of recommended stores where you can buy replacement items. This will give you an idea of what kind of allowance you have available to you. You can also use the list as justification for your purchases, as was recommended by the airline.

If you have travel insurance, your provider may also offer an allowance for this purpose.

Your credit card may also cover you for baggage delays.

Continue to Track Your Bag

Many carriers have a service where you can track the progress of your delayed baggage claim online. You can periodically check the airline’s website for any updates on its progress. Alternatively, you can contact the airline with the phone number you were given when you filed your report.

Escalate When Necessary

If you find that you are not getting anywhere with your delayed baggage claim, you can contact the airline’s Twitter account for an update. A public query can motivate the airline to be more proactive with your claim.

If the airline doesn’t consider your bag lost after an unreasonable amount of time, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Possible Outcomes

There are two inevitable results of your lost baggage claim:

The Airline Finds Your Baggage and Returns It to You

This is the fairytale ending that we are all hoping for. If you are reunited with your bag, inspect it for damage. Also, check to see if there are any missing items. If that either of these things are true, you can file a claim directly with the airline – details which will be available on the respective airline’s website.

The Airline Is Unable to Find Your Baggage

Consider yourself very unlucky as the chances of this occurring are extremely rare. An airline considers your baggage to be formally lost anywhere from five and fourteen days after filing your first report. You can now file a new claim for more compensation.

Claim forms will typically request you to list all items that were in your bag. The information normally requested includes the name and quantity of an item, a brief description, where and when it was bought, and what you paid for it. Bear in mind that deprecation does apply. Airlines do scrutinize claims that they consider excessive.

Domestic Baggage Liability

For domestic flights, the maximum liability amount is $3,800.

International Baggage Liability

For most international flights, the Montreal Convention treaty determines the maximum liability amount, which is currently approximately $1,780.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t had the unfortunate experience of losing a checked bag (delayed, yes), but I can imagine the significant impact that it can have on any trip. Thankfully, the chances of it occurring are extremely rare.

To lessen the chances of it occurring, you can:

  • Book a direct flight, if possible, instead of having connecting flights.
  • If you are booking a multi-flight itinerary, make sure all flights are with the same carrier.
  • Pack a couple of days’ worth of clothes in your carry-on bag.
  • Pack any essential or valuable items in your carry-on.

Relates: How to Avoid Losing Your Luggage

Have your bags ever been delayed or lost? What was your experience like and how did you manage it?

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