Traveling This Summer? Here’s What to Do If Your Luggage Is Lost

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Stressful, exhausting, uncomfortable—let’s be honest, air travel is no picnic. When you finally get to stretch your legs and book it to baggage claim, you expect the whole ordeal to be done. Alas, that’s not the case if your luggage is lost or delayed. If you ever experience this dreadful misfortune, it’s best to stay calm and take action. Here, a step-by-step guide on what to do if your luggage is lost.

But first, are airlines responsible for lost luggage?

Yes, technically airlines are responsible for delivering luggage to a passenger’s final destination and when they fail to do so on time, they are required to locate and return the missing bags or provide compensation for luggage that is lost. That said, the liability here is limited, so read on for the nitty gritty.

Got it. And what are the chances of finding lost luggage?

When all your sharpest clothes and most prized personal items aren’t waiting for you at the final stop of your itinerary, it might feel like all is lost…but baggage that doesn’t hit the carousel when it’s expected to is technically just delayed. The good news is that the vast majority of delayed bags are eventually reunited with their owners.

According to a 2019 report published by the aviation IT specialists at SITA, only 5 percent of mishandled baggage is gone for good. In fact, 77 percent of delayed bags are returned within 72 hours; and 95 percent of the remaining bags—the ones not returned so quickly—are ultimately still “matched and returned to guests.” In other words, the odds are pretty slim that your mishandled baggage is gone forever. So, take a deep breath and read on about what you can do while you’re still in lost baggage limbo.

1. Wait it out at baggage claim

The crowd at your baggage carousel has thinned and the same two suitcases (not yours) have been spinning around for what seems like ages. Naturally, your first instinct might be to panic…but patience is a virtue, friends, and that applies to delayed luggage too. The baggage handling process is a complicated one—particularly in large, heavily trafficked airports—and sometimes luggage from a flight doesn’t all come at once. It can also happen that bags from one flight wind up among those from another. So your first step should be to hang around the carousel for a little while to see if another round of bags is released. And while you wait, scan the neighboring carousels for your belongings too. It might turn out that the delay is a relatively brief one.

2. Speak with a baggage claim agent

If you’ve waited for a solid 30 to 45 minutes and your luggage is still nowhere to be found, it’s time to locate a baggage claim agent or airline representative who will guide you through the process, which involves filing a missing baggage report to alert the powers-that-be to the problem. In the event that you can’t find a real live person to help? Take a deep breath and contact the airline by phone right away. (Note: If your itinerary included connecting flights operated by different airlines, you’ll want to contact the carrier from your most recent flight.)

3. Ask the right questions

When speaking with an agent, be it on the phone or in person, be sure to (politely) insist that your bags be delivered to you at whatever address you put down, be it your home or a hotel. When a bag is mishandled, the onus is on the airline to locate and deliver the missing property. Unfortunately, you can’t count on them volunteering to do so because, let’s be honest, they’d rather inconvenience you. As such, they will likely suggest that you a. schlep back to the airport later to retrieve the bags or b. wait around for them to arrive on another flight. By all means, decline the hassle and opt for the third (unspoken) option.

During this initial interaction, you should also ask the agent whether you are eligible for a refund of any fees you might have paid to check your bags. There’s a decent chance you can get that refund, but you only have 12 hours to ask for it. Next, inquire into the airline’s expense reimbursement policy. Most carriers will cover at least a portion of the essential items you have to buy while you await the arrival of your delayed property.

Last but not least, be sure to ask when the airline will allow you to submit a claim for lost luggage; this is a separate claim from the one you made when your bags are delayed, and the length of time you must wait before filing it varies by airline.

4. Keep your receipts

As previously mentioned, most airlines will help pay for “reasonable expenses” you incur while waiting for your delayed bag. They will, however, require documentation of these purchases, and each airline has its own idea of what is truly essential. In other words, don’t be too extravagant when you go shopping for toiletries and stuff to wear in the interim, and definitely save all the receipts.

5. Submit a lost luggage claim form

If the waiting period you were given for lost luggage claims has passed and your bags still haven’t been located, it’s time to get the ball rolling on phase two of the ordeal. Call the airline up again and request to submit a lost luggage claim form, as mentioned above, so you can get reimbursed for the missing goods. This process is far more detailed, so be prepared for the airline to ask you for a thorough inventory of the items that were in your lost bag, as well as an approximate dollar value and possibly a purchase date for each. The amount of compensation required of any airline is capped at $3,500, but the information you provide on the lost luggage claim will determine your individual payout.

6. Read up on your credit card benefits

It’s easy to miss it in the fine print of the agreement, but some credit cards—specifically ones that offer travel rewards—cover delayed baggage expenses. If you used a credit card to book your flight, this is certainly something worth looking into.

How much do airlines compensate for lost luggage?

Again, the most you’re going to get for a truly lost piece of luggage is $3,500—and don’t expect to get the maximum amount, since depreciation is part of the equation when the airline determines the value of your personal items. It’s also worth noting that some airlines will offer you a settlement (roughly $1,500, but it depends on the carrier) so you can get some compensation without the hassle of providing an exhaustive inventory of your stuff.

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Emma Singer

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...
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