Delayed baggage. Baggage got left at the airport
Left luggage. Sometimes delayed baggage is caused by the luggage got left on connecting airport. Credit: Suriya (canva)

Everyone knows the feeling of waiting at the baggage carousel and seeing all the other passengers taking their bags and leaving. Sometimes you get that sense of relief when you do see your suitcase coming around the bend, but other times, the feeling of dread doesn’t leave. Your bag hasn’t appeared and now you need to find out why. Keep reading to know what you need to do next.

Missing Luggage: Delayed vs. Lost

You might assume straight away that your bag has been lost and you’ll never get it back. However, you should try to stay calm and patient. Your bag might be delayed, which means it could take a few hours up to a few days to be found

Baggage isn’t officially considered lost until the airline declares it is. This can take between five and 14 days, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Here’s what you should do if the airline declared it as lost luggage.

Even though there are technical differences between delayed and lost baggage, you have the right to compensation for both. But before you claim for the costs of having delayed luggage, you will need to file a missing baggage report with the airline.

Filing a Missing Baggage Report

The airline won’t know your bag is missing until you let them know. You should do this as soon as possible to give yourself a better chance of getting your luggage before you leave the airport and compensation later down the line.

1. Go to the airport’s missing baggage area/airline’s help desk

Start by going to the missing baggage area in the airport. Some airline’s will have their own specific help desk for this. You will need your flight number and sometimes a sequence number that will identify your bag. Your ticket should have all the necessary information. The staff at the desk will be able to have a better idea of where your bag could be.

2. File a missing bag report

If there isn’t any sign of your luggage, you’ll need to file a missing baggage claim. You should add your name, flight number, address (home or temporary, like the hotel or apartment you’re staying in for your vacation), and contact details. 

You should also add as many details about the bag as possible. Specify if it’s a suitcase or sports bag, the color, any tags or markings that make it stick out, etc. Anything that can help the baggage handlers find it for you.

3. Ask about possible reimbursements

Arriving home without your baggage isn’t a disaster seeing as you have more of your clothes and amenities in your own house. However, if you’ve just arrived for a vacation, you’re going to have a hard time. You’ll need to buy clothes that can suit the climate for at least a few days. And if the missing baggage is your child’s car seat, you’ll need an immediate replacement.

So make sure to ask the airline staff about what they can offer you. Some companies can provide car seats and amenity kits right away. If the bag has been left at the airport where you departed from and can be delivered to you later in the day or the next day, confirm that the delivery is free. It generally is, but it’s always a good idea to make sure. You should be entitled to more compensation later on, but at the airport it’s important to check these details.

Following Up On a Claim

Once you have made your claim, you can follow up on it through the airline’s website. You can check the status by typing in your name and confirmation number or bag tag number. There will be information on whether your bag has been found and when you can expect to receive it.

You can also use this system to file a claim if you didn’t make one at the airport. Some airlines also accept emails to their customer care representatives. If you email an airline regarding delayed or lost baggage, you can add Montreal Convention to the subject line. This will show that you are aware of your rights and are expecting some form of compensation.

Several airlines now offer baggage tracking on their apps. If your luggage is missing, you should also check the airline’s app for updates.

The Airline’s Responsibilities

Although there aren’t many regulations that help protect passengers in the US, the Department of Transportation does state what the airlines are responsible for regarding delayed and lost luggage.

1. Locating missing baggage

The first thing airlines are responsible for is locating your missing bags. Even if they use a contracted handling team, they have charged you a fee for transporting your luggage. They must find out what happened, whether it is directly their responsibility or not.

2. Having strict policies

All airlines must stick to certain policies regarding expenses compensation for delayed bags. Despite not stating the exact amount, the DOT points out that airlines cannot set random amounts for reimbursements. For example, Airline X would offer you $50 a day for expenses but Airline A would only offer $30. This is not permitted.

3. Offering compensation

Airlines are obligated to offer you compensation for verifiable, reasonable, and actual incidental costs that you gain because of your bags being delayed. For example, you should be compensated for basic clothes and amenities that will last you a few days but not a whole new wardrobe because you felt like it.

Of course, there are limits to how much the airline needs to pay you back. The maximum liability amount is $3800 per passenger on domestic flights and around $1700 on international flights. These amounts are set by the DOT and the Montreal Convention.

Getting Your Bags Back

Now that you know that the airline is responsible for finding your luggage, you’re probably wondering how you will get it back. Will the airline send it to you or do you need to pick it up yourself?

Most airlines will deliver your baggage to your home or hotel. It’s also likely that they will do it for free. Seeing as passengers are frustrated that their baggage has gone missing, it’s a good idea to offer this service so customers feel supported and that the airline cares.

However, there aren’t any specific regulations regarding this. Some airlines won’t deliver bags for free, and some might even make you collect them at the airport yourself. You should always confirm this with the airline when you’re making your claim.

Receiving Compensation

To guarantee getting compensation, you must keep all the receipts you gathered for incidental expenses, so anything you buy to replace what was in your suitcase. These will help you prove what expenses you had due to the airline delaying your baggage.

Another form of compensation that you can ask for right away is a refund on the baggage handling fee. When you bought your ticket, you paid for the airline to transport your luggage. Seeing as they didn’t perform that task properly, you are entitled to a refund.

Keep in mind that receiving compensation can take varying amounts of time. If the case is simple and you have all your expense receipts in order, it might only take a few weeks. However, if the airline finds any problems or inconsistencies in your claim, they can try to delay the process or avoid compensating you altogether. If this happens, contact the DOT and file a complaint against the airline.

Reduce the Chances of Delayed Baggage

There are several ways to reduce the chances of your baggage going missing and not arriving at your final destination at the same time as you. Here are some quick tips.

1. Make your bag distinctive

Bags that stick out are less likely to go missing because they catch the eye. They can be more visible in dark areas like the hold of a plane or the baggage department in an airport. Choose bright colors, stickers, tags, and more.

2. Buy direct flights

For each airport you stop in, the higher are the chances of your bags going missing. With direct flights, you’re only relying on the first handling team to put your suitcase on the plane and the second to take it off. Adding another on/off process in the middle can make your bag’s trip worse.

If you need to get a connecting flight, try collecting your luggage during the layover. For example, if you’re flying from London to New York then to Los Angeles, pick up your bag in New York then check it in again before the flight to LA. At least you can be sure if it has survived the first stage of the trip. If it happens to go missing on the second part of the journey, you’ll be able to tell the airline. Take a look through our article with tips on collecting baggage during a layover for more information.

3. Stick to carry-on luggage

If your suitcase is always with you, the airline can’t lose it. Carry-on luggage has this advantage over checked luggage. Of course, in some cases you need to check your bag. If you can avoid this though, your suitcase’s trip will literally be in your hands.

4. Track it

Nowadays, you can get Bluetooth tracking devices that you put in your luggage and you can track with your phone. This won’t stop your bag from going missing, but you might find it a lot more quickly.

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