The first thing to remember is not to panic. Take it from me, you’re less likely to make good decisions when you’re freaking out. Fortunately, there are tried and true systems in place to locate lost luggage – the airlines have been losing bags since commercial flight began and usually know just what to do.
The first thing you need to do when you realize your bag isn’t coming down the chute is to visit the airport’s baggage claims office. Every airport should have one located in the baggage claim area.
Here is what to do if your luggage is lost or delayed:
First rule: remember that 98% of all misplaced luggage is returned eventually. Those are great odds.
There are three possible scenarios for what happened to your bags:
- They didn’t make the flight: They should get to you on the next flight but you’ll likely have to wait a few hours to a day to get them back (unless the airport doesn’t have daily service from your departure city). If there are no more flights at all to where you are, trust me, you have other things to worry about.
- They were put on a wrong flight: They’ve likely gone to another airport, causing you a potentially longer wait since the bags will have to return to the original airport then connect to your location.
- They were on your flight but didn’t make it to the carousel: This is the best scenario since you should only have to wait a few minutes (at worst an hour or two) for the staff to track them down.
Airlines usually will, but aren’t obliged to, deliver your lost bags to you when they come around. Some will even reimburse you for expenses tallied due to the loss. Ask them about this when filing your claim.
Be sure you know how to check the status of your delayed bags – some airlines will have you call, some will have you check online. Make sure you know which one before you leave the airport.
If the airlines loses your bag, don’t panic. Have we said that enough? Panic never helps. Secondly, start a written “lost luggage” claim, sometimes different than a “missing luggage” claim. Airlines have a certain sum that they are liable to pay you if they cannot locate your stuff. It caps at about $3000 for US domestic flights but the limits vary for international flights as they are set by international tariff law.
To get reimbursed, it’s helpful to have an inventory of everything you had in your bag, so they can return to you the maximum extent of what you lost. Receipts from your wares are extremely helpful, especially if the item was expensive, like a laptop. Of course the airlines won’t reimburse for certain expensive items like heirlooms, jewelry and other valuables, so if you must travel with these things, keep them in your carry-on.
If you’re perpetually worried about losing your luggage, or even if you’re not, get travel insurance. Most good policies cover for lost, delayed or stolen luggage. Just get it, please.
The best way to keep it from happening is to head directly to the carousel as soon as you deplane. Most airlines now scan luggage as their off-loaded so they have a record of which bags are loaded on the rubber. But if you aren’t there to pick it up, someone else might.
After you leave the baggage claim area and your bag is stolen, go immediately to the police, not the airport personnel, and file a report. You’ll need it to collect from the insurance company.
Make It Easy On Yourself
Best way to keep a lost, delayed or stolen bag situation from getting worse to nip it in the bud. Here are a few things you can do to either prevent these situations from happening or else keep them from becoming more tragic than they need to be.
- Keep your name on—and in—all your pieces, in indelible ink.
- Make an inventory of what’s in your bag. If it gets lost, the airlines, or insurance company, will want to know what’s inside (so they can reimburse you!). A list will make the process of remembering easy. Keep the list with your other important docs.
- Write down the size, color and brand of your bag. It’s amazing how unhelpful your memory is when called upon to describe your baggage.
- If your bag isn’t eye-catching, embellish it. Make it stand out from the other nondescript black luggage coming down the ramp with colorful tags, ribbons or better yet, lasers.
- Keep your claim ticket. I know they’re small, but stick them to your passport. It’ll make the lost bag claim go a lot smoother if you can provide them with the barcode of your bag.
- Try not to check in late for your flight. The airport crew may be crafty but may not have sufficient time to get your bag on the plane. You can run through the airport, your bag cannot.
- Avoid short connection times. Again, the process for getting a bag from a flight to another flight may be quick for a body, but a bag has to be unloaded, scanned, transported, handled, scanned again and loaded. Quick connections may seem fortuitous for someone with legs but may end up causing problems for your legless baggage.
- Keep your important documents, major valuables, money and passports on you (in your carry-on bag).
- Get travel insurance. It will simply make your life easier in the event of the unfortunate.
- One final way to prevent a lost or delayed baggage situation is to keep your suitcase with you. Take it with you on the plane and don’t let it end up here.
If you ultimately find yourself without your luggage be sure to file a claim immediately. Airport staff know what to do in these situations and will help you out. Remember the stat? 98% of all lost bags are returned to their owner eventually.