What Happens To Lost Bags?

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when an airline loses your luggage? As a frequent traveler for the last 10 years, only twice have I had my baggage delayed. Because my luggage was lost last week, I had the opportunity to examine things from the perspective of an aviation writer and dig a little deeper in to the process.

Finding space for your luggage can be something of a lottery. Photo: Pxhere

It started with a missed connection

It started when I was flying from Montreal to Berlin Tegel via Paris Charles de Gaulle. Our flight leaving Montreal departed late and the connection was tight. While I was skilled at making my way through customs and security (using priority lanes helped), my one piece of checked luggage was not as successful.

Arriving in Berlin, I learned about my delayed baggage via email as well as the KLM app (which I use for the majority of my SkyTeam flights, even non KLM itineraries). This instantly gave me a feeling of anxiety as I had an onward flight on a separate itinerary later that day.

What Happens To Lost Bags?

Filing a report

Even though I knew Air France had at least two more CDG-TXL flights on which my baggage could catch up, I learned that nothing can be done without the passenger filing a claim/report. Everything revolves around having your unique baggage claim number.

What Happens To Lost Bags?
You can’t get anywhere without first completing this form and getting a reference number.

With my report filed I then was able to do two things: Firstly, I now had the ability to call the Air France lost/delayed baggage phone number and secondly, I had access to some information on the whereabouts of my luggage. This is done through something called WorldTracer…

WorldTracer and SITA

WorldTracer is a service offered by a corporation that goes by the name of SITA. Essentially, they run the world of aviation:


What Happens To Lost Bags?
WorldTracer is the third party luggage tracking system used by Air France and many other airlines.

Using the WorldTracer system, I was able to see that my luggage was on the next flight to Tegel. Filing the claim, I elected to pick up the luggage at Tegel airport. However, the hours went by and the flight had landed. An hour after my luggage was supposedly already on the ground, I was still left in the dark, waiting for a notification from “someone” about the whereabouts of my bag.

What Happens To Lost Bags?
Further correspondence from Air France regarding my lost bag.

The baggage handling company responsible at Tegel – Wizag – told me it would take about two hours post-arrival for anything to show up in their system. With my onward flight (on a separate itinerary) fast approaching, I was getting antsy.

The onward journey

It was at this point I decided to add a little bit more information to my claim/file. Logging in to the WorldTracer claim I was able to add a “Temporary Address” and so I did that just to give the airline additional info. There was a checkbox on the page that could allow me to request that my bag be forwarded on to this address. I left it unchecked because I wanted to get it myself at Tegel.

However, despite this, I was informed minutes later via email that my luggage would be making its journey onwards to my next destination in Milan.

What Happens To Lost Bags?
An email from Tegel ground handling service Wizag.

While I think I would have preferred to collect my bag at Tegel and check it myself for my next journey, I was definitely pleased that Air France was willing to send it to another country and city despite not being part of the bag’s itinerary.

Logging back into WorldTracer I was able to then see the journey my bag would now take:

What Happens To Lost Bags?
The updated status from WorldTracer

On this particular day, Amsterdam Schiphol was having a meltdown and many passengers who would have been traveling through Amsterdam found themselves being redirected through Paris as KLM and Air France are so tightly integrated. At one point my WorldTracer status had my bags on two Air France flights to Milan, this soon changed to Lufthansa flights going through Frankfurt – I assumed this was due to all AF flights being full due to the chaos at Amsterdam.

Arrival at Milan Malpensa

Although WorldTracer showed my luggage as arriving in Milan late on the 24th, it wasn’t until the 26th that I heard anything. It came in the form of an email from Milan Malpensa’s ground service company: Airport Handling.

What Happens To Lost Bags?
Correspondence from a company called Airport Handling at Milan Malpensa

After some quick back and forth emails with Airport Handling, it was agreed that it would be much faster to pick-up my luggage from Malpensa rather than have them deliver it to my address outside Milan (which they were willing to do).

Roughly 48 hours after losing my luggage, I was reunited with it.

Lessons learned

After this entire ordeal here’s what I learned from the experience:


  • Air France and many other airlines use the WorldTracer system to manage lost and delayed bags and provides a decent amount of info on the status of your bag. This system integrates the airline with the ground services of participating airports. In my case, this was Wizag at Berlin Tegel and Airport Handling at Milan Malpensa.
  • The Air France communication system was excellent. I never had to wait long to speak to a real human being about the status of my bag.
  • Air France was willing to ship my luggage to a destination beyond its itinerary. In this case, it was from Berlin to Milan – even on a competing airline! However, I’m not sure how far this extends. For example, what if I had an onward flight to Dubai or Nairobi?
  • The airline informed me of my rights and ability to submit reimbursements for necessities such as toiletries or clothing.


  • While Air France phone communication was excellent, those representatives could only do so much remotely.
  • I found it much more difficult to get through to the ground services at each airport. Therefore, it appears that the end success of getting your bag back depends more on the quality of the ground service company at the final airport than the airline itself.
  • Having access to a phone or computer seems almost necessary. I did see iPad-kiosks at Tegel where a claim could be submitted; this would take care of filing a claim without a computer. However, tracking your bags will require logging in to WorldTracer or calling the airline to check for you. I did not have a working phone number that I could be reached at.


Being the “moving target” that I was, I didn’t make it very easy for the airline to reunite me with my bag. I was pleased that the airline was easy to contact (after generating a claim number). It was also great that they were willing to send my bag onward to a totally different city and country on another itinerary.

I reached out to Air France to see if they wanted to add any comments about their baggage tracking system. It was quite timely that they just issued a press release about using RFID technology for baggage tracking at CDG. A spokesperson added:

“In addition, we offer real-time baggage tracking – each customer receives a notification informing them of the whereabouts of their baggage throughout the trip and the number of the carousel where they can collect their baggage on arrival.”

Hopefully, if your luggage is lost or delayed, you’ll benefit from the same customer service and tracking I experienced. However, I’m still worried the situation might be worse if baggage is lost through an airport in the developing world. Here’s hoping that never happens.

Have you had a bag lost or delayed? Was it easier or more difficult to get it back? Let us know by leaving a comment!