When Your Bag Goes AWOL: What To Do About Lost Airline Baggage

13 May 2017

Although lost luggage is a rare occurrence – less than 0.05 percent of checked bags are actually lost – when it happens to you, it is inconvenient to say the least.

Follow these tips and limit the chances of your checked luggage going walkabout.


As most experienced travellers know, one of the first rules of efficient travel is to put valuable and important items, such as camera, passport, tickets and prescription medication in your carry on bag. It is also a good idea to put a change of clothes in your carry on bag too, so you are prepared in the event of a lost bag or minor delay. Although rules vary by airline, you are also generally allowed to carry on to the plane with you what the airlines refer to as a “personal item” – a small backpack, camera or laptop for example.


These days, all checked bags are required to have a luggage label; make sure the address on yours is legible and up to date and is your name and address rather than that of the bag’s previous owner. Some suitcases have a pocket sewn into the outside, with a transparent cover, use this for your name and address as it is more secure than an attached tag. It is also a good idea to put your name and address as well as a copy of your flight itinerary inside your luggage, in case the outside label comes off. If your suitcase is older and beginning to look its age, make sure any zippers, straps and pockets are secure for your journey. Colourful or distinctive straps around your luggage make it easier to spot on the baggage carousel.


Not surprisingly, most luggage is delayed or lost when you have to make a connection somewhere – especially one that is short on time. Request extra time for your connection if you feel it necessary – a 40 minute connection time at a big airport is asking for trouble, even though the airline assures you it is enough time. Try to take a nonstop flight if you possibly can, or if you have to change planes, try to catch a flight earlier in the day so you have back up flight options for both you and your bags. An early morning flight is statistically less likely to be delayed or cancelled, as delays tend to build up throughout the day.


Be sure to check in for your flight on time to minimise the risk of your bag being mishandled. Check in times vary according to your destination, the airline you are traveling on and even the airport you are flying out of; and you should always check with your airline or travel agent for the current guidelines. Try to make sure your bag is actually checked through to the correct destination – that often mysterious three letter airport code that appears on the luggage tag attached to your bag is all important. For example, if you are flying to Salt Lake City (SLC) and the agent tags your bag to SCL – it will end up in Santiago, Chile!


It may comfort you a little bit to learn that most luggage is not actually lost – just delayed. If you are flying somewhere where there are flights every hour or so, your delayed bag may well be on the next flight. If so, you generally have the option of having it delivered to you – although this can take several hours, as the delivery company employed by the airline is responsible for delivering delayed bags for several different airlines. You can also go in to the airport in person to pick up your bag, in which case you should make sure that you have a photo ID.


If your luggage does not reach your destination with you within a certain time, you may be entitled to compensation; it depends on the extent of the delay – most airlines will start to compensate you after 24 hours. They may only compensate you for essentials such as an immediate change of clothes. It also depends on whether you are at home or somewhere else – if you are at home without your luggage, the airline’s view is that you don’t need as much compensation. Before you travel, you can also buy comprehensive travel insurance to provide coverage for lost, delayed or missing luggage.


If you need to make purchases because you are missing items in your luggage, be sure to keep the receipts so you can be reimbursed. If your luggage is never found, you are entitled to financial compensation up to the value of the goods inside. In this case the airline will probably send you forms to fill out, specifying the contents and value of your luggage. You are also entitled to receive compensation for damaged bags although it generally doesn’t cover everyday wear and tear of your luggage. If you believe the airline has damaged your bag, you generally need to report it in person – along with the bag – rather than by phone. You are not generally entitled to compensation for loss or damage to your carry on bag or any items in them.

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