You’ve arrived at your destination exhausted and ready to just get to your hotel room, but you have to wait for the baggage carousel to bring your checked bags around. You’ve been waiting a while, the carousel stops, and all the other passengers have claimed their bags… and yours is nowhere to be found. Losing your luggage is one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences you can have when flying; it can bring down your entire trip before it even starts and leave you feeling helpless. As hard as it may be, it’s important to stay calm and begin taking steps to recover your belongings and make due in the meantime. In this blog post, we'll cover the steps you should take when your luggage goes missing.
Step 1: Notify the airline
Once the baggage carousel has stopped moving, the warning light has stopped flashing, and there are no other passengers around, it’s time to recognize that your bags are gone. Head to the nearby baggage claim desk and report that your bags are missing. Airline’s each have their own set of policies, so while some may be very accommodating in what they can do while they search for your bag, others may not be helpful beyond the basic “missing bag” process.
Step 2: Fill out a missing baggage report
After notifying the airline, they will have you fill out a missing baggage report. This report will contain detailed information about your luggage, including its size, color, and any identifying features. At this stage, there is no such thing as being “too detailed” in your reporting; list out every item that was in your luggage, providing serial numbers, colors, sizes, anything that can be used in case of reimbursement. You will also be asked for your baggage claim receipt that would have been given to you at check-in from your departing airport, or by staff when gate-checking your bag.
Step 3: Provide contact information
Make sure to provide the airline with your contact information, including your phone number, email address, where you are staying, and where you live. With any luck, they are able to find your bag quickly and get it sent to your hotel, or if it takes them some time, they will ship it directly to your home. Until your bag is found, be sure to check your email and answer incoming calls; you don’t want to miss an important response and have to wait until the next business day to get an answer again.
Step 4: Ask for an “Overnight Bag”
Ask the baggage claim agent if their airline has any “Overnight Bags” for customers that have lost or delayed bags. They don’t usually advertise that they have these and you just have to ask, but it’ll include a lot of basic necessities like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sometimes an airline-branded T-shirt. For budget airlines, this is less likely to happen, and may even be tied to having a certain status in order to receive one.
Step 5: Check the baggage tracking system
Most airlines have a baggage tracking system that allows you to check the status of your luggage online. You can check this as often as you like in hopes of some change or notification that your bag is still in their system, just not where it should be. Sometimes bags are moved between facilities to get them to their owners quicker, so don’t be surprised if your bag appears to stop moving, it may just be on a different system by that point.
Step 6: Keep your boarding pass
Keep your boarding pass and any other travel documents handy. These documents will be useful if the airline needs to verify your travel itinerary or baggage claim. While they can look things up if you have thrown them away, it could delay the process and add undue complications to an already stressful experience.
Step 7: Purchase necessary items
If your luggage is delayed long enough that you need to purchase replacement items, like toiletries, clothes, or equipment, keep every receipt. Every airline is different, but in some way you can be reimbursed for your lost items; one airline may only refund your checked-bag fee, while others will reimburse you up to a total amount per day (sometimes only $50/day, after the 12th hour missing). Airline’s aren’t known for being too generous with this though, so don’t plan on buying a new camera and getting them to reimburse you, but they will likely reimburse a new toothbrush and T-shirt if that’s all you needed to buy.
Step 8: File a claim
If your luggage is lost for good, you'll need to file a claim with the airline. They each have different expectations for how long it should take to find your luggage; some will want you to wait 14 days before filing a claim, others 30 days. Keep tabs on the airline, calling in daily for a status update and next steps you need to take. In the case of a claim, unless you have original, itemized receipts, you are highly unlikely to get it reimbursed. Bringing along your 3-piece suit, laptop, and heirloom jewelry in your checked bag is a recipe for heartbreak, as airlines’ base the reimbursement on market cost, not replacement or sentimental, AND up to a limit. In the fine print you will most often see that they are not liable for valuables, as those should have been in your carry-on. If you aren’t sure about whether you should claim something or not, submit it anyways, as they will line-item your list and reimburse what they feel like, so it doesn’t hurt to try!
Step 9: Contact your travel insurance provider
If you have travel insurance, contact your provider to see if you're covered for lost or delayed luggage. They may be able to provide you with compensation for any lost items or additional expenses. If you paid for your flight and baggage with a credit card, some accounts come with built-in travel insurance, allowing your bank or credit union to pick up the fight for you and get you a lot more than the airlines ever would.
Step 10: Stay calm and patient
Finally, it's important to stay calm and patient throughout the process. Losing your luggage is frustrating and without a doubt one of the worst things that can happen when traveling, but it's important to remember that the airline staff is doing everything they can to locate it. Over the years, many of the airline benefits have been locked away to higher statuses, and the gate agents and checkstand staff are tied to corporate policy and can’t do anything more than what you already are doing. Unfortunately, it’s out of your hands now, but with some patience and persistence, you'll hopefully be reunited with your belongings again.
Losing your luggage is a quick recipe for a ruined trip, but it's important to stay calm and take the necessary steps to increase your chances of recovering your belongings. By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to getting your luggage back and enjoying the rest of your trip.