What if my Luggage is Lost or Delayed?

Millions of bags are lost by airlines every year. It’s true and it stinks when it happens to you.

Traveling is an adventure full with anticipating, but sometimes things don’t go as planned, and one common hiccup is lost or delayed luggage. The frustration of arriving at your destination without your belongings can put a damper on your trip, but don’t worry! I’ve got some tips to help you prevent this mishap and advice on what to do if it does happen.

Why are bags lost?

1. Transfer Mishandling

If the airport workers involved don’t have enough time, sometimes mistakes happen. That’s true of any of us in our responsibilities. Move too fast and errors can happen, that’s part of being human. Since connections are often unavoidable, that means more transfer bags, and the more there are, the more likely there can be an error.

2. Loading Errors or Incorrect Tagging

Bags can be, at times, tagged incorrectly at your airport check in or tagged for the wrong destination at transfer or check in. This is still more likely to happen when you have a connecting flight.

Not so fun fact: About 7-9% of luggage is likely to be lost, according to recent reportings by American & Allegiant airlines.

3. Staffing Shortages

Once again we look at human error. Before the pandemic, of course, we had missing luggage, but that’s only been made worse by staffing shortages that companies nationwide are dealing with.

How You Can Prevent Lost Luggage & Its Consequences for Yourself

Nothing’s for sure, but here are some tips to help you prevent this from happening to you, and why:

  • Make sure your luggage has no old airline tags attached. This can prevent confusion.
  • Take direct flights whenever possible, which reduces transfer losses.
  • Arrive early at the airport and don’t book very short layovers (I’d say under an hour or 1.5 hours for domestic and under 3-4 hours for a customs/international situation) to ensure baggage handlers don’t have to handle your bag at the peak rush time before your flight. Travelers that arrive at the last minute may find that their luggage misses their flight.
  • Don’t check a bag whenever possible, which reduces baggage handling of your items. If you do this, try not to board last as this increases the likelihood you’ll have to check that carry on. That leads us to the next one.
  • Check in online as soon as you are able (unless you have a special reason to board early, such as a status, children, wheelchair, etc.). This will ensure you’re not the last to board.
  • Double check that your bag is tagged correctly for your final destination, to ensure it’s less likely to be taken to the wrong location.
  • Protect your trip with travel insurance/travel protection. Most policies include a lost or delayed luggage policy to at least help you buy some essentials you really need if this happens.
  • Less or no dangling items from your bags will prevent your bag getting caught up and falling out of its correct path.
  • Make a list before you travel of what’s in your checked luggage, and if valuable, it may be worth keeping proof of its value accessible. It may be also useful to take photos of the contents you’re packing, and a photo of your luggage itself for identification.
  • Never pack important, vital things in your checked luggage, such as prescription medications, laptops, a change of clothes, toiletries, and important documents, expensive items, or irreplaceable items such as a family keepsake.
  • Place a sturdy luggage tag or two on the outside with your personal contact information inside and outside of your suitcase, to help improve the odds of getting your luggage returned if it is lost. The reason for 2 on the outside would be in case one gets ripped off during processing. It’s happened!
  • Consider a tracking device for your luggage, AirTags that work with iOS only or you could also consider Tile Pro for Android. There are some caveats to how they work, but I’ll leave that to the tech gurus!
  • Use a luggage strap or pack bright, unusual luggage, so nobody else inadvertently picks yours up!
  • Put a copy of your travel itinerary inside your luggage, especially in a case you are going to multiple destinations.
  • Pro tip: snap a quick photo of your baggage claim ticket just in case you lose your physical ticket!

If your Bag isn’t on the Carousel, What’s Next?

  1. Check other nearby carousels, in case it ended up on the wrong one, or someone grabbed yours and put it back on the wrong one once they realized it wasn’t theirs.
  2. Visit the airline’s lost luggage desk to report the situation – the last airline that should have handled your luggage. This comes into play when you are traveling with more than one airline. The most recent airline you flew on is the one you need to visit and file with. They’ll need your baggage claim ticket & detailed description of your missing bag. Be nice, but firm. Talk to a real person. Don’t be a jerk, but the squeaky wheel does still get the grease, if it’s not abrasive, too.
  3. File your claim with the airline, and usually you will have to fill out a claim form, make sure you include a list of its contents & receipts if you have any. They will also want the address of where you are going to get it back to you. Expect it may be at least 5 days until you see the bag again, sometimes they’re about 48 hours – but that’s rare.
  4. Ask them for the PIR ( Property Irregularity Report) which the airline can provide you, which is essential in tracking your missing bag.
  5. Check your travel insurance policy for coverage details, and contact them if you’re qualified (usually there’s a slight waiting period of a certain # of hours)
  6. Keep contacting the airline lost luggage department. Hopefully they can provide a site or tracking number for your luggage sooner rather than later.
  7. Make sure you also know the airline luggage/baggage policy when items are lost so you know your rights, you could be possibly entitled to compensation, future benefits, or reimbursements through them.
  8. If you it’s been a good number of days without results, it is not uncommon for people to take their case to social media – tag the airline in your story, don’t be a jerk but state what happened, and ask friends to share your story, eventually the airline will perk up and more than likely move faster for you.
  9. Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Transportation has rules & guidelines in place too that the airline must adhere to, you can check it out by clicking here. If the airline isn’t being helpful, this department accepts complaints at this page. It’s not likely to make it work better, but it does get you more attention to the matter.
  10. While you’re waiting for your luggage to be delivered, keep receipts for everything you buy to replace what you had. You will need them.

Tips for Getting What’s Yours

There are deadlines to get what you are entitled to, so keep this in mind:

  • 4 hours from the time your flight lands is the deadline to file your complaint with the airline for lost baggage
  • 5 days is the time when the airline transitions your case from the local airport to the central baggage office, which is the start of getting someone to really and truly help you.
  • 45 days is the time frame you have to file the Passenger Property Questionnaire (PPQ) with the airline, which is a form is where you itemize your property and assign value to it – do this right away if you can.
  • 100 days is the time frame in which all bags cycle out of the WorldTracer system, so at this point, your bags are likely lost without hope of recovery. There’s a bit of good news though as only about 2% of lost luggage is forever gone.
  • If your airline still doesn’t find your luggage, and you’re interested in filing a small claims court suit, you can check out this interesting article I found on this – but this does not constitute legal advice and it is recommended that you do consult your own attorney regarding any and all legal matters.

Additional thoughts on this topic

Check out your airline’s lost or delayed luggage/baggage policy before your trip so you know what you can or cannot expect if this happens.

Usually the bag is considered delayed until it’s been missing for about 5-14 days, so it can take just a little time or more, depending on how far off track it’s gotten.

What’s the Worst Airline for lost luggage? They say American Airlines is the winner of this contest.

When Your flight Has Been Canceled and You Already Checked Your Bag

You will want to visit the carousel in baggage where luggage that was checked will be reloaded. Many times, airlines will try to re-route that bag of yours to your final destination – whether automatically or by manual labor – and this all depends on the airline & airport, so move quickly if this happens!

In summary, pack smart, do what you can to prevent it, and, if needed, follow the process above to increase the chances of your bag being back to you quickly. With these tips, you can reduce the chance and hassle of lost luggage and get on with enjoying your vacation.

Ready to plan a much-needed vacation?

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