Airline Lost Your Luggage? Here’s What You Should & Shouldn’t Do

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Nobody wants to deal with lost luggage. It’s inconvenient and time-consuming, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. When you find yourself stuck without your luggage, there are a few things you can do to speed up a resolution. The more you know, the smoother the recovery of your belongings will be.

Airline queue at Heathrow
When your airline loses your luggage, what should you do? Photo: Getty Images

US airlines are getting better at looking after luggage

Between 2012 and 2018, the major airlines in the US reported a decrease in the number of lost luggage items per 1,000 passengers. According to data from the US Department of Transportation published by LuggageHero, as of December 2018, Delta Airlines had just 1.55 lost luggage complaints per 1,000 passengers, and United had been able to reduce its luggage complaints by 49%. What does this mean?

Passengers with luggage
Airlines are getting better at looking after luggage. Photo: Getty Images

Well, essentially it means that airlines are getting more efficient with handling our luggage. It’s getting easier for them to track it and deliver it correctly and on time. That’s not to say that accidents don’t happen.

When things do go wrong with your luggage, follow these steps on what to do about it – and what to avoid.

DO: stay calm

When you turn up in a new place or come back from your holiday or business trip, finding that your luggage is not where it should be can be stressful. You might feel angry and frustrated, but allowing yourself to be overcome by emotions seldom works in your favor.

When you notice your luggage is missing, stay calm, and follow the steps below to begin the process of retracing your missing belongings.

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Empty baggage carousel LAX
When you notice your luggage is missing, it can be frustrating. Stay calm. Photo: Getty Images

DO: report your lost luggage

Whether your luggage is damaged, delayed, or lost, the very first thing you should do is report the incident to your airline. This can, and should, be done at the airport when you first notice the problem. Look for the lost luggage counter at the airport.

In the UK and with some airlines, you’ll be requested to fill in a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). This information will help your airline trace your delayed or lost luggage and get it back to you as soon as possible. When you fill out the form, make sure you ask for a copy for your records; you might need this in the future.

However, if you leave the airport without filing a report, ensure that you contact your airline directly via phone or email. Provide as much detail as you can about yourself, your journey, and your lost baggage. Do this as soon as possible.

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Baggage carousel
Report your missing belongings. Photo: Ingenieria-logistica via Wikimedia Commons

DO: keep your documents

As always, it’s essential to keep relevant documents relating to your lost belongings with you. Not only might you need a copy of your PIR, but retaining your boarding pass and baggage tags could be useful. Any evidence that will help trace your items and link them back to you is a bonus. If you are fortunate enough to have photos of your luggage, make sure you share them with your airline.

What’s more, you might want to check for any receipts that prove you purchased items that are within your baggage. These could be paper receipts or items listed on your bank statements. Again, anything that helps to attribute things to you will help you out in the future. It could be the difference between success and failure in receiving the correct compensation if your baggage is not found or is damaged.

In addition, without your luggage you might need to purchase essential items to see you through the days until your airline responds. Keep receipts of everything that you are buying so that you can claim it from your airline at a later date.

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Luggage tag, Barcelona
The more evidence you have, the easier it will be for your airline to locate your luggage. Photo: Getty Images

DO: check with your insurance company

Whether or not your airline finds your luggage, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. In the US, the Department of Transportation (DoT) says that passengers can be eligible for up to $3,500 as a maximum baggage liability for domestic flights. They can pay more, but it is not a guarantee.

For international flights, the DoT says airlines can compensate passengers up to $1,780 for lost luggage. Again, they might offer you more, but this is not a guarantee.

In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority can grant up to £1,000 for lost, delayed, or damaged luggage.

If you’re not happy with the maximum compensation from your airline, then your travel insurance company may be able to offer you more. For this reason, it’s essential to check any insurance policy you may have taken out before your trip. Ensure that you clarify your rights with them for confidence that you are being treated fairly.

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Airport worker collects baggage in Chicago
Work out which avenue will give you the best satisfaction. Photo: Getty Images

DO: stay in contact with your airline

While airlines will do their best to return your luggage to you in a timely and convenient manner, they can get busy. You may not hear from your airlines for a while after you file a report. Make sure that you maintain frequent contact with your airline to keep abreast of any information.

If you find any more information that could be of value to the airline locating your baggage, share it with them. However, also be mindful that your airline will be doing their best for you, and their silence does not mean you have been forgotten.

DON’T: accept your airline’s compensation offer if you are not happy

Your airline may issue you with financial compensation in addition to or in lieu of locating your luggage. How much they award you will be calculated based on cost-estimates for your inconvenience and whether your luggage has succumbed to damage.

Baggage handlers in Germany
There is help out there when your complaint is unsatisfied. Photo: Getty Images

However, if you are not happy with your compensation, you are allowed to raise a complaint with the relevant body. The DoT says that it can enforce action on airlines who unfairly treat their customers.

Other things to note

When it comes to lost baggage, it’s worth researching to ensure that your case is being handled properly. Interestingly, different countries have different laws about the classification of luggage and customer rights. In the US, for example, an airline is considered to have lost luggage if it is not with its owner between five and 14 days. By contrast, the UK states that airlines have 21 days to return their customers’ luggage. For other countries, this deadline will vary.

If you follow these steps when your luggage goes missing, you’ll hopefully be able to quickly and effectively get your luggage returned to you. Do you have any additional tips for lost luggage?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

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