What to Do When an Airline Loses Your Bag

airline lost luggage

Lost luggage can send even the most level-headed air traveler into a frenzy. But keep your cool because you may be able to retrieve your belongings or even get reimbursed for your trouble.

Here’s what to do if your luggage goes missing at the airport:

Stay calm

Don’t panic if your luggage doesn’t show up right away because it’s probably not lost for good. Most likely it’s just delayed or is on a different flight, especially if you had to change flights. Your luggage should end up at your final destination, eventually.

File a claim

You should head to the claims office as soon as possible to file a lost luggage report. At the claims office, you will be asked to file a form detailing the contents of your luggage and the dollar value of each item. (You will only be reimbursed for the depreciated value of the missing items.) Under a directive from the Department of Transportation, domestic airlines are required to cover “all reasonable, actual and verifiable expenses related to baggage loss, damage or delay.”

Be prepared to present your case and possibly negotiate for more compensation on your lost luggage. You may also be able to get some money for items such as toiletries or a fresh change of clothes to hold you over until your luggage is returned.

Be sure not to leave the airport until you get all the information and documentation you need. Also, get the business card of a representative you can follow up with later.

Be patient

Don’t give up hope if your luggage isn’t returned immediately. It could be a few weeks or months before you and your bags are reunited. In the meantime, continue to check in with the airline about the status of your luggage. If you’re still dissatisfied, you can also file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

Prevent future problems

The next time you fly, you can take some steps to prevent another lost-luggage mishap. First, get a travel insurance policy that covers lost luggage up to the value of your belongings. Second, never pack valuables, precious jewelry or pricey high-tech gadgets in checked baggage. In fact, it’s probably better not to bring them with you at all, even in carry-on bags. Not only do airlines advise against packing these items, but they won’t reimburse you for them if you file a claim seeking compensation.

Third, before you leave home, be sure to take pictures of your luggage and its contents. Slip a business card inside your bags to identify them as yours in case the outer name tags somehow get removed.

And if you can pack your gear small enough to fit into the carry-on bag your airline allows you to keep with you – check with the carrier first on maximum size – you’ll avoid the lost luggage problem altogether.