What to Do When Your Baggage is Lost or Delayed

We’ve seen figures indicating passengers travel with something like 30 million bags each year, but according to the International Air Transport Association, only about 1 percent of those bags are delayed and an even tinier fraction of those bags are considered lost for good. However, even if a checked bag is somewhat delayed, it can ruin a trip. Plus, when this happens for the first time, you may not know what to do.

Six Tips: When Airlines Delay or Lose Your Bag

As of April 23, 2011, the Department of Transportation ordered airlines to refund baggage fees for “lost” bags, which is a no-brainer. However, most misplaced bags are simply “delayed” for a day or two, in which case there is no fee refund.  Airlines are required to provide reasonable compensation for some delays, but you have to ask.

More tips:

1. Mark your baggage clearly

Put a name and a cell number (or however you wish to be contacted) inside and out. And for purposes of a “lost baggage,” know the brand, style and color of your bag (you’d be surprised how many don’t know this).

Smart tip: Take a picture of your bag after it’s packed. It may be helpful to show a baggage clerk if the bag is lost or delayed.

See the five things the new passenger protections will not do for you

2. Don’t pack valuables

Check out the contract of carriage on most airlines, and you will see that many specifically ban valuables in luggage, and therefore will not compensate you for the loss of such items. What is considered a “valuable”? It varies from airline to airline, but here is just a partial list of things American Airlines will not accept in checked-bags:

“Antiques, artifacts, artwork, books documents, china, computers, electronic equipment, software, eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses, orthotics, furs, heirlooms, keys, liquids, medicines, money, jewelry, silverware [and much more].”

Leave these items at home or carry them on your person. If they get lost, the airline is not responsible.

3. Keep documentation

Hang on to all receipts, claim checks and documentation until your bags are in your possession. If they get lost or delayed, or are damaged in any way, you will need the paperwork to support your claim.

4. Follow These Steps to Report a Lost Bag

Don’t leave the airport without making a claim about your bag. This may seem obvious, but in some cases travelers have been too tired to wait, or they can’t immediately find anyone to complain to. Follow these steps:

  • Wait until the carousel stops disgorging new bags – this may take awhile.
  • If your luggage is not on the carousel, look at nearby stacks or lined-up bags. These may have been set aside for group travelers and it’s possible your bag is there.
  • Head to your airline’s baggage office (sometimes, it’s just a window). This will usually be near the baggage carousel on the same floor.
  • If you cannot find a clerk, look for another airline employee, even if that means heading to the reservation desk on an upper floor. If you cannot find anyone there, call the airline and document who you spoke with and when.
  • If you do find a clerk at the baggage office, explain your situation and describe the bag (or show a picture of it). The clerk may attempt to track it then and there.
  • You will most likely be asked to fill out a report. Don’t take it home to fill out, but complete the form then and there, and as accurately as possible.
  • Make sure you get a copy of the report, and note on your copy who you spoke with and when.
  • Attempt to get a time frame on when you can expect delivery of your bag, although the clerk may not be able to give you accurate information immediately.
  • Ask what compensation you can expect (if any) and when you might receive it.

5. Look for freebies

Some airlines will automatically hand you an emergency kit of some sort to tide you over while you await your lost bag (Southwest did this recently – freebies included Prell shampoo and Lady Speed Stick deodorant). If you must spend your own money on necessities, keep the receipts to show the airline as you follow up your claim.

6. Follow up with the airline

People get busy, but don’t forget to follow through on your claim. Keep communications with your airline professional and to the point. Demand satisfaction or file a complaint with the airline and you can also file a complaint with the Dept. of Transportation too if you’d like.

One Last Place to Look for Lost Bags

Try the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This unique mega-store buys old lost bags that cannot be reunited with their owners (yes, it happens). Among items found in these bags that were for put up for sale: a 40 carat emerald and a complete suit of armor.

If anyone out there has purchased anything from this store, we’d love to hear what you found.


Published: November 9, 2011