Have you ever gotten off a long flight, made your way to baggage claim, and watched the bags go around and around for a few minutes, with a realization slowly dawning that your bags aren’t there – and they’re not going to be?
Lost or delayed baggage has to be one of the most frustrating things that can go wrong in airline travel.
If this happens to you, do you know what you’d do next?
What To Do If Your Luggage Isn’t at Baggage Claim
If you discover that your luggage didn’t make it to baggage claim, you’ll need to act fast to figure out what happened to it. First things first:
Do NOT leave the airport until you file a claim.
The first thing you should do is go to the baggage claim counter, which should be in the baggage claim section of the airport, and talk to a representative for help. If you don’t see someone at the counter, desk, or office, see if someone is walking around. Finally, if there’s not a representative in sight, go to the reservations counter for help.
In short, don’t stop until you talk to an airport representative who can point you in the direction of filing a claim for your luggage.*
The more you know and the more you enter into your claim, the better off you’ll be. Don’t leave anything blank on the form (especially contact information) and, if you can, provide an itemized list of what you packed, including the value of each item. This may come in handy later if your luggage never turns up.
In the meantime, the airline is required to provide you with funds for a few “essential items” while you wait for your luggage to either turn up or be declared “lost”. Again, make sure you take care of this before you leave the airport. And keep in mind that the essential items will only fund bare essentials at the lowest cost possible.
*Special note: if you arrived at your final destination via layover, then you’ll want to file the report with the airline that operated your last flight.
What To Do If Your Luggage Is Officially Lost
The best case scenario in these situations is that your luggage will turn up on the next flight or within a few days. But if 30 days (at most) have gone by and still no luggage, it will officially be declared “lost”.*
If this happens to you, contact your airline and file a claim for compensation for your lost luggage. (This is where that itemized list you made when you filed your first report will come in handy.)
Be very careful to report the value of your items as accurately as possible – the airline will be on the lookout for exaggerated claims. The absolute maximum you can get back per person for lost luggage is $3,400 for domestic flights, unless you purchased protection for a higher value prior to your flight. The absolute maximum you can get back per person for lost luggage is 1,131 SDR (Special Drawing Rights) for international flights, as per The Montreal Convention. In terms of getting the money, it can take from one to three months, according to The Department of Transportation.
*Special note: If your bag is lost, the airline is required to reimburse you the fee you paid to check your bag in the first place.
No response on your claim? Contact The Department of Transportation.
If a couple of days have gone by and the airline is totally unresponsive to your claim and phone calls, then you may want to escalate the issue with The Department of Transportation.
Complaining to DOT won’t necessarily result in the airline returning your calls or making the whole process easier, but what it will do is report the issue and include it in the statistics used to measure airlines’ performances. And there are cases that DOT ends up fighting for consumers, so it’s always worth it to file that complaint.
Don’t Give Up
Whatever you do, don’t give up on getting your luggage or your compensation, whichever applies to you. It’s not always easy to get – and it’s rarely fast – but giving up out of airline phone fatigue isn’t worth it. Never stop fighting for your rights!