What If I … Lose My Luggage?

BHTP_DistressedLogo_Circle_PMSBy Molly Jensen

You’re standing at the baggage claim, waiting for your bag to come around the carousel. Families are pulling off dozens of bags and leaving, but you’re still waiting. Now everyone has left, and there’s one lone black bag still making the carousel loop. Except it isn’t your black bag. You hate to admit it, but …  your bag is lost.

Great. Now what?

First and foremost: report the loss to the airline before leaving the airport. Between the deadline for reporting missing baggage and the importance of creating a paper trail, you do not want to leave the airport before creating a report. So make your way to the Baggage Service Office and keep these things in mind:

  • When you talk to service agents they’re going to want facts, so make sure you’re giving thorough information, now and when you may have to talk to them again.
  • Your bags are most vulnerable when you switch from one carrier to another. If you lose your luggage in that process, fill out the lost-baggage form for the last carrier that got you to your destination.
  • Even if the agent helping you says your bag will be on the next arriving flight, still insist on having a report filed, because you never know what can happen.
  • Before you leave, get a copy of the report and/or the report number, the name of the agent who helped you, and a phone number in case you need to call the office.
  • Ask for the best way to check on your bag’s status, because some airlines now have ways for you to track your bag online.
  • Make sure you leave your name, hotel or home address (depending), and a phone number where you can be reached.
While you might have to shop for replacement items, remember: Most lost luggage is found within 48 hours.
While you might have to shop for replacement items, remember: Most lost luggage is found within 48 hours.

Depending on the airport and the time, there’s a chance no one will be in the Baggage Service Office, in which case you should call the airline directly and make a verbal report. Provide the same sort of information as if you were filling out a report in person, plus note the time of your call.

The majority of lost bags are found and returned within a few days, but you’re entitled to reasonable reimbursement for expenses like toiletries and a change of clothes while you’re left waiting for your delayed bag. Also, if something like sports equipment was lost, airlines may cover the cost of rentals. These compensations vary by airline, so ask for what you deserve. Then keep all your receipts and fill out the proper form to be compensated.

Travel insurance comes in handy in situations like this. If you have AirCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, you’ll get $500 if your bag is delayed 12 hours or more.

In as early as a week or two, airlines will declare a bag lost and have you fill out a claim form. When filling out the paperwork, remember:

  • Don’t exaggerate values on the claim form. If the airline believes you are lying about the value of your lost possessions, your claim can be denied outright due to fraud.
  • Realize that airlines will only pay for the depreciated value of your items.
  • Get copies of all the forms you fill out in this process.
  • It can take between four weeks and three months for the airline to pay for lost luggage.
  • When the airline finally pays your claim, they may offer ticket vouchers instead of money. While the tickets may look like a better deal, ask about blackout dates and hidden restrictions attached to these tickets. It’s no use accepting the tickets if you can’t conveniently use them.
  • Ask about getting your baggage fee refunded. The airline probably won’t offer the refund outright, so ask about it and fill out the proper form. If they ask to have your baggage claim ticket, make a copy before they take it, and make sure it’s noted that you gave them the ticket.Are you having fun jumping through all these form hoops? It’s discouraging, but you deserve to be compensated for your lost baggage! The money you receive may not completely make up for losing your perfectly worn-in red pumps, but that’s money you can use to get a new pair that will someday be just as worn-in.

If you’re continually calling different agents and feel like your problem isn’t being addressed, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation, or take your issue to social media. Posting a tweet full of foul language probably won’t get you anywhere, but making a post about your issue could potentially get a quicker response than repeatedly calling an agent. (Delta Airlines in particular responds extremely quickly via social media.)

Now that you’ve gone through this experience, you might be wondering what you can do to prevent this from happening again. Here are some tips.

  • The most common causes of lost luggage are late check-in or tight connecting flights, especially connections on different airlines. Get rid of those things, and not only will your bag more likely end up at the same destination as you, but you’ll also probably experience a little less travel stress.
  • Make sure the agent checking your bags attaches the correct destination ticket to your bag.
  • Don’t pack valuables in your checked luggage. Many airlines’ contract of carriage says the airline won’t transport “expensive or unique items,” and thus the airline is not liable for the pricey, one-of-a-kind souvenirs in your lost luggage.
  • Most airlines note the maximum claim allowance on the back of your airline ticket. If you notice the airline has a low maximum claim, don’t pack your brand-new, high-tech tablet in your checked baggage.
  • Label your bag on the outside and inside. Put some flashy ribbons or tags on your black bag to make it more identifiable and decrease the chances of a tired businessman grabbing your bag instead of his own.
  • Having a packing list and a photo of your bag will make things easier when filing out reports and claim forms if your bag gets lost.
  • Investing in a baggage tracker is always an option. One of our favorites is HomingPIN. It will soon tie directly into the systems of many major airlines, train lines, and hotels, and offers express return of your bag once it’s located. It’s invaluable if you’re on-the-go.

Remember to always be courteous to any and all agents and representatives you talk to. These individuals are not responsible for losing your bag; they’re trying to help you get it back.

Airports hold any unclaimed bags for 90 days, and after that most bags in the U.S. are sent to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, where their contents are sorted and resold or donated to charity. So if your bag never makes it back, at least you know it wound up someplace warm.

Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.