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What To Do When the Airline Loses Your Luggage

Airports can be chaotic, busy places with thousands of people racing to their various flights and connections. For every person you see, there are a handful of bags that the airline must transport to the right destination. Between staffing shortages, technical issues, and simply overwhelming travel demand, it’s becoming far more common for an airline to lose your luggage. Thankfully, you have certain rights that will help you protect yourself and receive compensation. You can also take certain steps to avoid losing your baggage altogether.

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01 The rise of lost luggage incidents

lying luggage in airport

It seems like the list of things you have to worry about at the airport just keeps growing. Since the end of the pandemic, airlines are losing more luggage than ever before. With millions of people flying every day, airlines are facing some pretty staggering logistical challenges. Lost luggage incidents also become much more common during the holidays when everyone is traveling, so take extra care during any period when there are more passengers than normal.

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02 Immediate actions upon discovering missing luggage

man looking at luggage

When the airline does lose your luggage, it’s important to immediately report that it is missing. If you wait, there’s a risk of someone else claiming your bag, your luggage ending up on another flight, or a whole list of other complications—the airline may even deny your lost baggage claim. Some airlines offer apps with the option to report missing luggage, but this is still not widespread. Head to the baggage desk of the airline that covered the portion of your flight where your baggage went missing. Inform them that your bags are missing and fill out any necessary forms. You should receive some form of tracking or reference number for the case. If you have travel insurance, you will also want to contact them.

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03 Understanding airline responsibilities and reimbursements

American Airlines luggage check in

Once again, every airline is different and each offers different reimbursements and services to passengers with missing luggage. Don’t assume that they will deliver your baggage to you free of charge. Many will, but others will have certain charges or will refuse to deliver your luggage unless you request it. Ask many questions. For example, some airlines may be required to provide you with a monetary reimbursement, overnight kit, or an allowance for reasonable expenses. Under certain conventions, the reimbursement must be in cash, cheque, or credit to your credit card, not in airline miles or travel vouchers.

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04 Smart packing to minimize risks

woman packing luggage

Future passengers have many ways to minimize the risks of losing your luggage. Among the most important, however, is smart packing. Because of the cost of checking bags, you may feel the temptation to pack as much as you can into just a few bags. However, this means that if even a single bag goes missing, you will lose more of your items. You’re less likely to lose a bag that’s always with you, so keep essentials and two days of clothes in your carry-on.

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05 The role of travel insurance in baggage protection

travel insurance on luggage

Unless you travel frequently, you might scoff at the idea of travel insurance. However, travel insurance can help you manage a range of flight mishaps, including cancellations, delays, and—of course—lost luggage. If your bags go missing, your travel insurance will compensate you. Some plans even come with options for providing funds for essential items. Plus, sometimes insurance companies are easier to work with than the airlines when it comes to missing baggage.

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06 Using technology to track your luggage

AirTag in hand

Thanks to advancements in technology, you’re no longer as reliant on airlines to find your luggage for you. You can use consumer gadgets to track your luggage at all times. Some of the most popular options are Bluetooth trackers like Apple AirTags or Tile Mate. Connecting your phone to these small devices will cause them to show up and be trackable on a map app. Should your bags end up lost, you just need to open the app and let the airline know where they are.

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07 Navigating the complex world of credit card coverage

credit card by travel tickets

In some cases, you may not need separate travel insurance—as long as you have a credit card. Financial companies offer a long list of benefits to entice you into applying for their credit cards. Often, these benefits include some level of loss or damage protection on various objects, including luggage. Common examples of these protections include a daily spending allowance or an outright reimbursement. Usually, you’ll have to book the flight on the credit card to use these benefits. Additionally, many of these protective cards come with annual fees.

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08 The waiting game: Delayed vs. lost Luggage

Close up of a luggage at airport. baona / Getty Images

Some of the rules and terms surrounding lost luggage may surprise you. As an example, airlines have different policies for when to declare a bag as “lost.” Domestic airlines will usually give themselves five to 14 days to find your bags. International flights typically fall under a convention that gives the airlines 21 days to find your luggage, during which the bags are “delayed” not “lost.” This means that you may not even be able to apply for lost luggage reimbursement for several weeks after your flight.

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09 Empowering yourself with knowledge on passenger rights

man and woman standing side by side with luggage

One of the most important actions you can take to be ready for problems like lost luggage is simply to know your rights. When you hand your bags to the airline, they assume responsibility for those items. If they fail to return those items to you, they are required to reimburse you. However, there will be times when you need to escalate things or file complaints with the responsible governing body. Different destinations also have different guidelines and responsibilities.

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10 Proactive measures to reduce chances of lost luggage

passengers walking by gate screen

Proactive measures are the best way to avoid the airline losing your luggage. While direct flights may be a bit more expensive, you’re far less likely to have baggage issues because you’re not hopping between flights or airlines. When choosing flights, give yourself—and the workers responsible for your baggage—plenty of time between connections. That way you or your bags don’t end up missing the flight. Finally, luggage trackers allow you to personally keep an eye on your items, giving you far more security.

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