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How To Deal With Lost Luggage

Here’s the scenarios: You’re standing at the baggage carousel waiting for your bags to appear out of the endless black hole onto the conveyor belt. At first, there’s a steady flow of bags coming down the conveyor belt, but soon it is only a few, and finally there are no more bags on the carousel, and you still don’t have yours. Or maybe, you do get your bag, but it looks like it’s been ripped to shreds and everything you own is on display for everyone to see. Alright, maybe a little dramatic, but things like this do happen. The final question on your mind when you find yourself in this situation is, who’s responsible?


If you find that you are bagless, go directly to the airline counter and inquire after the baggage. By doing this immediately, you will find out the situation, without needless panicking. Your bags may not be lost, but are just delayed. If this is the case, the airline can easily track them. There are a couple of different situations that may have happened, either they got stowed on the next flight and will be there shortly, or they got sent to the wrong airport, and may take a little longer to get to you. In either case, make sure to file a claim immediately with the airline and be sure to leave contact information, like the hotel phone number, or your home phone number and address.

As an extended curtesy, airlines will typically bring you your luggage when retrieved so that you don’t have to make a trip back to the airport. Also, and this is an added bonus, many airlines will reimburse you for any unexpected expenses that you incurred because of the loss or delay, but make sure to keep your receipts.

One final note, before you leave the airport, make sure you know how to track your bag’s status. Some airlines have an online tracker, while some will provide you will a phone number to call for updates.

Lost Baggage

Worst case scenario is that the airline totally loses you baggage. If this is the case, make sure you get a written claim for the damages immediately. Usually this is a different form than the “missing luggage” form, and can be done right at the airport, or by mail.

When traveling on a domestic flight, the liability for airline baggage is capped at $3,300 per person. If you are traveling on an international flight the liability will vary and will depend on the various international treaties.

The downside to being reimbursed for lost luggage is that the airline may require you to provide receipts for items that were in the baggage. Most likely you will not have receipts for the items, unless they are new, so you will need to dispute this with the airline directly. If you do have receipts, include copies of them in any documentation that you send to the airline.  Something to keep in mind is that the airline will only reimburse you for the depreciated value of the items, not the full purchase price. If you feel that items you have in the baggage are worth more than the $3,300 cap, you can purchase “excess valuation” protection. Be aware that many of these items may be covered on your homeowners or travel insurance policy, so check this out before purchasing the extended protection.

Also, be sure to check the airlines list of items that they are not responsible for when packing. Items that they typically do not cover include, jewelry, money, heirlooms, and other valuables. If you do have to bring these items with you, make sure to pack them in your carry-on bag for safekeeping.

Stolen Baggage

One very simple way to prevent your bags from being stolen is to head directly to the baggage carousel after your flight. After you have your baggage, there will be time to visit and doddle. The airlines keep strict tabs on what baggage is unloaded onto the baggage carousel. They will scan each bag and keep records just for this purpose. Once you have your baggage and you’ve left the baggage claim area, if you bags are stolen you must take it up with the police, not the airline.

Damaged Baggage

A good rule of thumb is to immediately inspect your baggage for damage or other signs of tampering or mishandling when you retrieve them from the baggage carousel. Make sure to report any damage to the airline before leaving the airport. Usually the airline customer service will want to inspect the bag so they have information on their end. If your bags are just showing signs of normal wear and tear, be aware that airlines will not cover this.

If you get the baggage repaired yourself, make sure to keep the receipt as you will have to present this to the airline for reimbursement. The airline might otherwise require you to use a repair shop on their approved list for reimbursement. Probably the worst thing to happen in this case is to find out that you have spent a couple hundred dollars, only to find out that the airline won’t approve of the repair vendor and you are not being reimbursed.


By preparing your baggage just a little bit more, you will find that it will pay off. For example, put your name on the outside and inside of your baggage as well as a copy of your itinerary so that they can locate you if needs be.

Most commonly, lost and delayed baggage is a result of late check-ins and tight connections. As stated before, make sure to place any valuables in your carry-on bags so as not to lose any valuable items or information.

Another preparational tip is to itemize what is in your baggage. This may be a little tedious, but you will be glad you did when the airline asks you what was in your baggage.

Also, after the person at the airline baggage check-in desk attaches slips to your luggage, make sure to double check that the documentation is going to the correct destination, and be sure to get a claim ticket for each bag.

Lastly, pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag so you have something to wear if your bags are delayed or lost.

By following these simple steps, you will find yourself prepared for these hard situations. It may not make the situation any better, but at least you will know how to handle it.