The Airline Lost Your Bag – The 5 Don'ts You Must Know to Get it Back

Ever lose a bag? I mean, lose a bag that’s gone for good? I sure hope not, and fortunately, it really doesn’t happen very often; something like 98% of all lost luggage turns up eventually.

Man Has to Sue to Get Bag Back

Charles Wheelan’s bag made a miraculous reappearance – though not before the Dartmouth professor had to file suit in small claims court. All Wheelan wanted was his bag back from United and barring that, he wanted his $25 bag fee reimbursed. Eventually his suitcase was returned, though the entire episode left the good professor with a touch of cynicism: “I suspect that the bag would never have turned up were it not for the lawsuit,” he told us.

At least he didn’t have to create a YouTube sensation to get United’s attention – nor did he have to start a class action suit, as one woman did against American Airlines over a lost bag – though American, sounding a little puzzled, has since told us that this woman’s “lost” bag was returned to her the day after it went missing, and – it was actually lost by another airline, on that carrier’s flight!

Find a Good Flight Deal Right Now to a Favorite Destination (With or Without a Bag)

Will Bag Fees be Refunded if Bags are Delayed? Maybe

But if your bag is lost, yes, some airlines do allow you to put in a claim for the bag fee – including American. In fact, our activist Dept. of Transportation has proposed rules requiring that bag fees be refunded in the case of a lost bag, and, that the fees also be refunded in the event of flight cancellations and even flight delays. They’re singing my song.

Okay, let’s say your bag is missing, even for awhile – what do you do? Well here’s what not to do:

The Airline Lost Your Bag – The 5 Don’ts You Must Know to Get it Back

These, as noted, are the “don’ts” you should avoid – but the tips include plenty of “do’s” as well; and if any of you “lost bag veterans” out there have any other suggestions, please let us know.

1. Don’t Leave the “Scene of the Crime” – the Airport

I know you’re tired, but stay at the airport and make a report. It’s true that some carriers allow you to make this report within a day of your arrival, but you’re just delaying things. Plus if it’s a damaged bag you need to report, the airline will just make you return anyway, with bag in hand.

Note: if for any reason you feel your baggage problem has to do with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), you must file your claim with this airport security agency.

2. Don’t be a Jerk

Be polite. No, it may not solve your problem, but trust me, if you go ballistic on the airline reps, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests you’ll only be hurting your case. Who wants to help a jerk? Besides, the airline reps you’ll be talking to – they’re not the ones who lost your bag.

Besides, it’s hard to provide an accurate description of your missing suitcase when you’re screaming yourself silly.

3. Don’t Pack Valuables

Did you know this? Most airlines take no responsibility whatsoever for any valuables you put in your suitcase. In fact, some airlines say you’re not even allowed to carry these items. And what constitutes a valuable?

Exactly What IS a Valuable, Anyway?

According to American Airlines’ contract of carriage (and other airlines have similar restrictions), valuables include the following: heirlooms (maybe great-grandmother’s handmade quilt); books and documents; jewelry; computers and software; eyeglasses, contact lenses and even non-prescription sunglasses; furs; keys; medicines; cameras – oh, and cash. And much, much more. Something to think about.

Again, there is no reimbursement for the loss of such valuables. There is reimbursement for other losses, per the Dept. of Transportation – up to $3,300 per lost bag – but here’s there’s a catch: according to the DOT’s Consumer Guide to Air Travel, you get the “depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs.” In other words, most of us will not be getting that full $3,300.

My advice? Never pack any valuables – leave them at home where they’re covered by your personal or homeowner’s insurance.

If you must bring valuables, your American Express or other credit card may provide some coverage, and some of the airlines provide additional coverage, but please – read the fine print!

4. Don’t Be Ignorant of Your Bags’ Contents

Don’t know what’s in your bag? Sorry, but the airline will want to know, and they’re going to want an itemized list with sizes and colors. Think about this as you pack. Better still, pack light, use a carryon, and don’t worry about any of this.

But if you do bring a checked-bag, take a picture of it with your cell phone. And while you’re at it, take a close-up picture of your baggage claim tag, in case you lose the little sticker they give you.

One more thing: make sure you have a legible ID tag both outside and inside your bag.

5. Don’t Give Up or Give In

Speak up: if you’ve lost your bag, made a report, but have gotten no satisfaction – keep on them. Call the frequent flier members hotline (a good reason to join). Hang on to all your paperwork and reference your claim number in every communication.

If you contact your carrier by email, be brief and to the point, and include all important details such as dates, flight numbers and the claim number. If you don’t get satisfaction, keep widening your net and contact call center supervisors, baggage department heads and PR people (google the airline’s name and department or check out a respected resource like Consumerist.com).

Even better: stay on the airline’s case with Twitter and/or Facebook; the airlines do respond quickly to problems they hear about on social media, and this is a great reason to have your own account (and we show you how to follow your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook – trust me, it’s easy).

Final (and Best) Tip

And like I said earlier – why not avoid all this hassle in the first place? Use a carryon. Except on Spirit of course – the only U.S. airline to charge for this convenience.

Want more?

Rick Seaney’s ABCNews.comÃ? column:What to do When the Airlines Lose Your Bag 

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Published: July 28, 2010