Empty luggage conveyor at the airport
If the luggage conveyor is empty and you still don't have your bags, don't panic. Here's what you should do.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

What to Do If the Airline Loses Your Luggage

Reconnecting with Your Belongings

It’s been a long flight and you’ve finally arrived at your destination.

You stroll into the arrivals lounge and wait by the luggage pick-up, watching for your familiar bag to come down the conveyor belt.

And you wait. And wait.

After a while, all the bags have been collected and you’re left standing alone and empty-handed.

It’s a traveler’s worst nightmare — but what should you do if the airline loses your luggage? Read on to find out.

What Happens If Airlines Lose Your Luggage

Why does lost luggage happen? Where did your bag go astray?

The most common explanation when baggage is lost, is that your bag was accidentally put in the wrong place during sorting and ended up being loaded onto the wrong flight. Research shows that 47% of lost luggage is due to transfer mishandling. It can also be caused by tight connecting flights — sometimes you make the second flight on time but your luggage doesn’t.

When this happens, the airline can reroute the luggage to you, which will usually take a day or two.

Lost luggage doesn’t actually happen very often. The chance of your luggage being lost or delayed is less than 1%. There are rare situations where the labels have come off, your suitcase was sent to the wrong country, or it was stolen. The odds of losing your suitcase completely are one in 2,500, but it still happens.

What to Do If Your Bags are Missing

Here are some important steps you should take if you have arrived at your destination but your bags have not:

  • Report it immediately. Go straight to the airline counter and explain the situation. You’ll need to show your ID and your baggage claim tags, so make sure you hold onto them.
  • They will look up your flight itinerary to try to figure out where your bag is. If the bag has been placed on the wrong flight, they will usually promise to reroute it on the next flight.
  • It’s also important to file a report about the missing bag at this step. Make sure you request a copy of the report as well.
  • You should also request a phone number of someone whom you can contact if your bag doesn’t show up when the airline has promised.
  • Plus, you know that fee you paid to have your luggage checked? If your bag is lost, that’s usually grounds for getting a reimbursement of that fee. So, make sure you request this immediately so the reimbursement can be processed.

Last but not least, confirm that your lost luggage will be delivered to you for free. Most airlines will do this by default, but it’s important to make sure. If the airline doesn’t offer it, ask for it. It’s good customer service and it’s in their best interest to offer it to you.

Plus, don’t forget to keep track of any clothes or toiletries you need to buy when waiting for your luggage. If you keep the receipts, you should be able to request reimbursement from the airline. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you can buy a $750 pair of jeans, but if you buy some reasonably priced clothes and toiletries you should be able to get them reimbursed.)

You should also check your travel insurance policy as in some cases there will be coverage for lost luggage.

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What Are the Chances of Finding Lost Luggage?

If your bag is lost it will likely be dealt with quickly and odds are it will be returned to you. According to this article by Clever Journey, 85% of total lost baggage is found and returned within 36 hours. If you experience the very rare situation where your luggage is lost for more than 21 days, you could get a compensation of up to $3,500 depending on your destination.

When the airline does return your luggage to you, make sure you examine it carefully. Luggage that has been lost and rerouted is much more likely to have experienced some damage during the trip. You can take photos of this damage and file a claim with the airline.

Sometimes the process of applying for compensation for lost luggage will take a few weeks, so be patient. However, don’t give up and let the airline off the hook. You should continue to follow up and file claim reports. Don’t get angry, just be patient and persistent — you’ll eventually get it back!

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