If you’ve ever flown on an airplane — for work, vacation, or to use the phrase “catch flights, not feelings” — you know there’s always the risk of your luggage getting lost along the way.
We have no idea how or why it happens, other than Mercury in retrograde or someone poking your voodoo doll, but we’ve got some handy tips to manage this below average situation.
An easy way to bypass losing your luggage, is by going the carry-on route. It’s 99.9% more effective, and you won’t need to wait for your luggage at baggage claim!
But if you overpacked, just can’t imagine squeezing your bag into one of those comically small overhead bins, or the airline ran out of overhead bin space, checked luggage it is. (That’s why we love these hardside carry-on luggage bags. They can withstand even the klutziest baggage handler.)
If that checked luggage doesn’t arrive when you do, don’t panic. Here our guide on what to do.
What to Do Immediately If the Airline Lost Your Luggage
First, your bag is probably delayed, not permanently lost. Any frequent flier has probably encountered a plane delay. So it only makes sense that bags can get delayed, too.
This can happen because of mishandling in transfer, failure to load, ticketing errors, bag switches, security issues, space-weight restrictions, and even weather issues. OK… now we’re really annoyed with global warming.
But take a deep breath. It’s the airline’s responsibility to locate your bag. Airlines have the tracking systems in place to identify your bag’s location.
- Check that your bags aren’t on the carousel.
Bags have a funny way of hiding in the oddest places! There’s also the possibility that they’re on the wrong carousel, waiting at the ticket counter, offloaded at the unclaimed baggage center like a lost child at the grocery store, or getting snacks.
- Report and document everything.
Start at the ticket counter or baggage office of your airline. Explain to the representative that your luggage is lost and file a report. You’ll need the luggage stub you got at check-in and your ticket to do this. In return, you’ll get a file reference number to track your bag. The barcode and number will help the airline to identify your lost luggage.In your lost luggage report, provide detailed information about your luggage color, size, material, brand, and any funny luggage tags or identifying marks. You’ll also need to give a local address and contact information so the airline can get in touch with you when they locate your bag.
- Don’t wait at the airport for your lost luggage.
It’s now the airline’s responsibility to retrieve and deliver your bags. Apology note probably not included. You waiting there isn’t going to expedite the process.In the meantime, the airline is required to compensate you for reasonable, verifiable and actual incidental expenses that you may occur while your bags are delayed. You may be given a budget to purchase essentials to tide you over until your bags arrive. Check with the airline and keep your receipts for reimbursement. And make sure you grab a stick of deodorant. Your hostel mates will thank you.
Will They Find My Luggage?
They probably will find it, but there is the chance of your bag going MIA. Domestically, airlines will reimburse passengers up to $3,500 for lost, delayed, or damaged bags. That’s per passenger, not per bag.
In 2017, airlines permanently lost 5.57 bags per thousand passengers. We’ve got some questions about this .57 bag that people are carrying around, but we guess we’ll settle for Airfare Watchdog’s list of which airlines are most likely to lose your luggage.
If for some reason you’ve already left the airport without your bag and without talking to someone at the airline, you can file your lost baggage claim online.
Here are the baggage claim forms for Delta, United, and American Airlines.
What If I Lose My Bags When I’m Traveling Internationally?
You could panic. Or you could follow the steps above. As a quick recap that’s:
- Check the baggage carousel
- Report and document your lost luggage. Give the address of where you’re staying and a phone number where they can reach you. (Now would be a good time to download What’s App.)
- Leave the airport and start your vacation
Fun fact: The Montreal Convention is a treaty that applies to the carriage of baggage, internationally. It means that if you lose your luggage abroad, you could get some cash monies for compensation!
The maximum baggage liability for flights covered by the Montreal Convention is approximately $1,600 per passenger.
What if I’m not staying near the airport or I’m traveling to another city soon?
If you’re only spending 2 days in your dream city and your luggage is lost, missing, or stolen, this might seem like a real pain.
Simply file a claim using the address of where you’ll be staying the longest. Explain your situation, and that you only plan on being in the city for a few days. This is also a great moment to use your skill of crying on command, which is why we always pack an onion in our carry on.
What if I’m staying at a hostel?
If you’re staying at a hostel, use their address on your claim form. The airline should always deliver your lost luggage to your stated location. It’s also a good idea to give the people working at the hostel a heads up that a bright orange suitcase may be plopping down on the front desk in a few days.
8 Tips to Prevent Lost Luggage
Don’t leave your fate up to the luggage gods! Follow these steps to avoid any hassle of filling out reports or interacting with humans to help you find your lost baggage in the first place.
- Use a carry-on. Your bags will always be in your possession or just overhead.
- Keep valuables (laptops, cameras, jewelry, cash) in your handbag or backpack.
- Take photographs of what you’ve packed, in addition to the actual bags. Bonus: this also makes a cute pre-trip Insta!
- Get travel insurance and learn the terms and conditions.
- Pay for flights with a credit card, as this may be useful for creating digital trail. Plus, mileage points!
- Label bags on the inside and outside with actual name and address. Now is not the time to use the fake name you use to order delivery when you don’t want the Thai restaurant to know you’re ordering Drunken Noodle for the third time this week.
- Use some sort of identifying mark on your bag, such as a colorful or a handle wrap.
- Use TSA approved locks to avoid unnecessary rifling through your stuff.
- What Exactly Can I Pack in My Checked Luggage? - January 16, 2020
- What Should You Do If the Airline Lost Your Luggage? - November 15, 2019
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