The Airline Lost My Bag – Now What?

Published by Rick Seaney at July 15, 2019

Waiting for the bags

Believe it or not, it’s actually rare for an airline to lose a bag, but it only has to happen once to ruin a trip. Before you shout, “Help, the airline lost my bag!” read this. It explains what you must do and how to collect any compensation you’re owed.

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, we think it’s worth it. Tip: Check airline size and weight allowances for carry-ons; if your bag 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: If you do bring a big bag to check, do not put valuables in it. Must-have valuables like electronics, jewelry, eyeglasses or medications should be kept on your person or in a carry-on, so they’re easier to keep an eye on (and harder to steal or get lost).

Take a picture, leave a card: Do you know exactly what your suitcase looks like and which company manufactured it? A lot of us don’t, so take a photo of your bag before you go to the airport in case you have to describe it later. Slip a business card inside the bag, too, so it can be identified in the event ID tags fall off.

Lost bags

Don’t leave the airport: No matter how tired you are, do not leave the airport without first making a missing bag report. Do this for lost bags, and do it for damaged bags. Failure to make a report could mean no compensation for your loss and a longer wait for the 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.

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 is the rule: Whichever airline flew you to your final destination is the airline to contact for missing bags.

Hold on to documents, receipts: After you fill out the missing bag form, keep a copy in a safe place, and hang on to any receipts for items you had to buy because of your loss (things like toiletries, etc.). You may need this documentation later to be compensated for your loss. Tip: Take pictures of receipts so everything is on your phone.

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 are due a refund. Be sure to follow up with the airline.

Airline lost-bag coverage: If a bag is lost, you will probably get some compensation; airlines cover losses of up to $3,000 or more. You will be required to fill out a lengthy claim form on the airline’s website, and be ready to prove what your missing items were worth.

Keep receipts for necessities: If a bag goes missing for several hours or longer, most airlines will refund you the price of some toiletries, and possibly more (this may depend on how long the bag is lost). Again, keep all receipts; you’ll need them to prove how much you spent.

Pack some patience

It’s not easy to stay calm and cool when your bag goes missing (trust me, I know) but being polite and patient when discussing your lost bag with an airline rep can pay off. Remember, the rep did not lose your bag; they’re only trying to help. And who would you rather help, a person who’s nice and polite or a person who’s yelling at you?

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