Believe it or not, it's actually rare for an airline to lose a bag, but all it takes is once to ruin a trip. Before you shout, "Help, the airline lost my bag!" read this so you know what to do, and what compensation you may have coming to you.
The Airline Lost My Bag – What to Do
You found the cheapest flight; now, pack the best bag.
1. Before You Fly
- Use a carry-on: This is the one bag that won't get lost because it travels by your side; even if you have to pay a fee for your carry-on, it's worth it. Tip: Check the airline's size and weight allowance for carry-ons because if yours is too big or too heavy, an airline rep may take it from you at the gate to be checked.
- No valuables in checked-bags: Sometimes you need a bigger bag but do not pack valuables in it! Items can get lost or stolen – it's rare but it happens – plus some airlines expressly forbid valuables in luggage and they say this presumably so they won't have to compensate you for such losses even if the bag goes astray. If your valuables are must-haves like electronics or jewelry or eye glasses or medications, keep such items on your person or in a carry-on, and not in a checked-bag.
- Take a picture, leave a card: Do you know your suitcase brand/manufacturer? A lot of us don't, so use your phone to take a picture of your bag before you go to the airport in case you have to describe it later. Slip a business card inside the bag as well so it can be identified in the event those ID tags on the handle rip or fall off.
2. When a Bag is Missing
- Don't leave the airport: No matter how tired you are or how long the line is, do not leave the airport without making a missing bag report. Do this for lost bags, do this for damaged bags. If you fail to make a report before leaving the airport, you may be denied compensation and have a longer wait for your bag's return. Fill out the missing bag form at the airline baggage office located near the baggage carousel; if no one is in the office, call the airline, or talk to any airline representative in the airport. Do not leave without making contact with someone, and write down the name of the person you spoke with.
- Contact the right airline: If you flew non-stop when your bag went missing, you know which airline lost your bag, but if you flew a connecting route with multiple airlines or codeshare partners, it's not so obvious. Here's the rule: The airline that flew you to your final destination is the responsible party, and that is the airline to contact.
- Hold on to documents: After you fill out the missing bag form, keep a copy in a safe place; also, hang onto any receipts for checked-bags. You may need this documentation later to be compensated for your loss. Got all this on your phone? Smart.
3. Know Your Rights
- Fee Refunds: The Department of Transportation mandates that checked-bag refunds may be given for lost bags and even delayed bags (12 hours or longer for domestic flights, 18 hours or more for international travel). It may be up to you to let the airline know you get a refund; put this on your to-do list.
- Airline lost bag coverage: If your bag is lost, you will probably get some compensation; airlines cover losses of up to $3,000 or more but you will usually need to fill out an online claim form (go to the airline's website and search 'lost bags' or 'baggage').
- Keep receipts for necessities: If a bag goes missing for several hours (or longer), most airlines will refund you the price of some toiletries (more expensive items will probably not be approved). Keep all receipts; you'll need them as proof of your expenditures.
4. One Last Thing
Patience, patience: It's not easy to stay calm and cool when your bag goes missing (trust me, I know) but be polite when discussing your lost bag with the airline. The individual you're dealing with didn't lose your bag so getting mad at him or her won't do a bit of good. Besides, they're only trying to help; let them. And next time, use a carry-on.