What to do if an airline loses your luggage

Reader's Digest Editors

Problems with lost, delayed or damaged baggage are the number one passenger complaint against airlines. Fortunately, your rights are protected. 

File a claim

luggage

To improve the odds of your luggage arriving when you do, insist that it be tagged with the proper flight and destination information before you leave the counter.

Sometimes ticket agents will staple the claim check to your ticket jacket before tagging your luggage, only to confuse your bag's destination with another passenger's. 

If your bag does go astray, file a report with the airline's baggage claims representative. (The baggage office is normally located near the carousel where bags arrive).

You will be given a form to fill out, describing the bag and its contents. Be as accurate as possible, as it will be the basis for compensation if your bag is lost forever.

Keep a copy of the form for your records. If there is no airline employee available to take your claim (this can happen if your flight arrives late in the evening or at a small airport), get the airline's baggage service phone number from an airline representative and immediately report the problem. Be sure to get the name and title of the person you speak to on the phone. 

If and when your bag is found, ask the airline to deliver it to where you're staying, or your home address; there should be no charge. Happily, most luggage shows up in a relatively short time, usually because it was placed on a later flight. But if yours doesn't, you will have to take further action to be compensated. 

Read more: 8 ways to pass time in airports

 

Get reimbursed

If your bag is delayed for more than a few hours:

Ask the airline representative if the company will reimburse you for expenses you incur while it is missing. Some airlines will provide a toiletries kit. Others will require you to purchase any items you need and then seek reimbursement. 

Get receipts for any purchases you make. The airline will scrutinise your claim closely before making a payment. If you are attending a formal dinner party on the evening of your arrival and your tuxedo was in the missing bag, the airline may agree to pay for the cost of a rented tuxedo. However, claims for nonessential items, such as swimwear, will probably be denied. 

In about 1 per cent of cases, a bag is truly lost. If this happens to you, you will need to submit a follow-up claim. This typically requires filling out yet another form, although some airlines will use the information from your original claim. 

"Be as thorough as possible in describing the lost bag and its contents"

Once again, be as thorough as possible in describing the lost bag and its contents. In a few cases, this information will help the airline locate your bag, but it's more likely that it will be used by the airline to determine its value and the amount it will pay you for the lost luggage. 

You should receive a cheque or payment from the airline within around six to eight weeks of filing your claim. If you disagree with the value placed on your claim, don't cash the cheque. Examine it closely: there is probably a provision on the back stating that by endorsing the cheque or providing your bank details, you are accepting it as final payment of your claim.

If there's a good reason to seek a bigger payment from the airline, contact the carrier's claims department with additional information supporting your request for more money. This sometimes will prompt the airline to increase its offer. 

Read more: What your flight attendant won't tell you 

 

Your last resort

Under certain circumstances, you can recover more than the limited amounts provided for by law and the airline's own policies. 

For example, an airline that fails to follow its own procedures and policies for handling baggage—such as by not trying to locate a missing bag or by misleading a passenger about the bag's whereabouts—could be found liable for additional damages. 

Proving your case could be difficult, however, because you need access to evidence about the airline's procedures and supporting testimony from airline employees. Talk to a lawyer to determine whether your case is financially worth pursuing in the court system. 

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