What To Do When An Airline Loses Your luggage.

Baggage reclaim what to do when an airline loses your luggage

Frequent travellers will have all felt that dread when their backpack doesn’t come out of the conveyor belt and they realise the airline has lost their luggage. The stress of flying plus the nightmare of having all your clothes, essentials and your favourite lucky pack going on an adventure without you is the last thing you need, but don’t give up hope. There are steps you can take to retrieve your favourite backpack. So what do you do when an airline loses your luggage?

An airline losing your luggage is never an easy nor a nice situation, when all you want to do is get to your guesthouse or room and rest from that long, crappy flight where the idiot in front reclined the entire way and the brat behind you screamed enough to burst your left ear drum, but knowing what to do and acting calmly and rationally is essential to ensuring you get your backpack back. So what do you need to do after you find out your luggage doesn’t arrive at baggage reclaim with you and has been lost?

Be Prepared.

This is where preparation comes in really handy. I normally travel with carry on only, partly to avoid this exact situation, but when I do have to check a larger bag for longer trips I always assume something will happen and prepare for the worst. This is why I pack a couple of changes of clothes in my carry on alongside all my absolute essentials, electronics, passport and anything else that I don’t want to lose. That way if my backpack does go missing I will have a small survival kit for a couple of days at least.

I also take a photo of my pack when it has been fully packed, plus take an itemised list of everything in it. It is never much, but still. This comes in really useful later. I also take a quick snap of the bagage label they stick onto my pack before I wave goodbye and it disappears down the carousel.

Finally, make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance. I really can’t stress this enough. It’s important.

Stay Calm.

I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but losing it isn’t going to help anyone, no matter how much the airlines may deserve it. Always remember that the employee in front of you had nothing to do with your bags going missing, so it isn’t fair to take it out on them. Plus, you need their help, so being polite will get you a lot further. Even if you have to grit your teeth first.

Don’t Panic.

I know it feels horrible at the time but even though your backpack is technically lost, there is still a high probability you will get it back. It is just a matter of when more than anything.

Look Around.

This doesn’t always work but sometimes there is a very small chance that your pack beat you to the carousel and was offloaded by a ‘helpful’ member of airport staff who has left it graciously lying with a pile of other peoples luggage. Or very rarely it may even be on a different carousel. Just have a quick glance around. Chances are slim, but it doesn’t hurt.

Report It Immediately.

Don’t leave the airport just yet, before you do anything else go and report your bag missing at the baggage service center or reclaim center (some airports may have very slightly varying names for this).

You will need to fill out a property irregularity report (airline fancy speak for lost luggage report) and will need to ask for a case number.

Having as much information to hand as possible is essential here, and this is where the photos and checklist you prepared earlier will come in handy. Be as detailed as you can when filling out the form, this includes size, colour and material of your pack, a list of what is inside and any identifying features such as a name or luggage tag.

When you do this make sure you write down or take a photo of the case number and keep all your boarding passes and baggage receipts. Give them the name and the address of the hotel or guesthouse where you will be staying and ensure that they have all your contact details. Also get the name of the person you are dealing with and a contact number directly back to that office as well as any further contact details you will need for the airline.

Knowing who to report it to. 

If you are dealing with a single airline then the answer is simple, they are responsible for your pack from the moment they take it from you to the moment it gets delivered back into your hands.

If you are flying with multiple airlines on different connections however then it is the last airline you flew with who is ultimately responsible for getting your bag to you, even if it never made it into their system. So if for example you are flying from London to New York via Amsterdam, and you fly KLM from London to Amsterdam and then Delta from Amsterdam to New York, it would be Delta who is ultimately responsible.

Ask For Immediate Help.

I say ask here only in the sense of being polite, because their ‘assistance’ is mandatory, even though they will try and wriggle out of it as much as possible.

If they have simply ‘misplaced’ your luggage en route and can get it back to you, then airlines are required to give you funds for reasonable and basic essentials purchased while you are waiting such as toiletries, underwear and any associated expenses whilst dealing with the issue. They will need all receipts and will argue the toss until hell freezes over about what is essential, so keep it basic. A toothbrush, some toiletries, underwear and a T shirt or two, maybe some laundry depending on the time frame, can be considered essential. That fancy aftershave, new leather jacket and a spending spree at the airport clothes shop probably wouldn’t be.

Getting Your Pack Back.

Hooray, the airline has found your pack! They discovered it had a luxury layover in Dubai and then had a grand adventure half way around south east Asia whilst you were waiting miserably for some clean clothes in Bangkok.

When they contact you they will probably ask you to pick it up from your nearest airport, don’t let them fob you off with this, it is their responsibility to send it to you at their expense, so set a date and wait for the emotional reunion with your beloved backpack.

Filing An Official Claim.

After you have done all of this, you will still have to make an official claim for delayed or missing bags.

Your insurance should be your first port of call, that is what it is there for and will be the quickest and easiest route.

But airlines can’t get off free and easy, and they should be held accountable too.

Deadlines for claiming.

Most airlines stick to roughly the same international standards when it comes to deadlines for claiming what they owe you, but it is always worth double checking on the airlines own website for specifics, they have a reputation for being as sneaky as possible when it comes to things like this. Usually however you have:

  • 7 days for damaged luggage after you get your luggage.
  • 7 days for lost or damaged items after you get your luggage.
  • 21 days after the flight for delayed luggage.

After 21 days it is officially considered ‘lost’, ie you are not likely to see it again. In this instance you should report it again as soon as is practically possible.

What you need to file a claim.

To file a claim you will need:

  • Your boarding card and luggage labels (with the bar codes).
  • All the photographic evidence you took before your flight.
  • Any photographic evidence of any damage.
  • The property irregularity report (PIR) form you filled in at the airport.
  • Any written correspondence between you and the airline.
  • Receipts for anything you had to buy due to the delay.
  • Proof of purchase for anything lost or damaged.
  • Cost estimates for any repairs you are claiming for (they are unlikely to pay for new for old).

Filing the claim.

You will either have to fill in a claim form or write a letter. Either way when you are writing it out make sure you are as detailed as possible and include all the supporting documentation and evidence.

You should also say that you are filing the claim for compensation under the Montreal Convention, this will stop the initial fob off attempt as they will know you are aware of your legal rights.

And remembeer, it is important to keep all copies of original documents and any correspondence too. It is highly likely you won’t be happy with the airlines response so you’ll need all of these if you want to take the matter further.

Enjoy Your Trip.

Airlines are more of a hassle now than anything else, and with customer service at an all time low and customer dissatisfaction at an all time high, it is best to (hopefully) get your pack back as quickly as possible and not let the experience ruin your trip.

You are backpacking around the world, seeing new awesome sights and having awesome experiences! Chalk it up to a future travel story and get out there and enjoy yourself!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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8 comments on “What To Do When An Airline Loses Your luggage.
  1. Alan says:

    Good tip about taking a photo of the baggage label before it disappears down the belt. Will have to do that in the future. Thankfully we have never had any lost packs yet (delayed yes) but we fully expect it will happen one day. If you have any tips on how to avoid the person reclining I’d be interested to know.

  2. John says:

    Airlines really don’t give a crap about you or your gear once they have your money. They will do whatever they like and carry on getting away with it.

  3. Rose McFadden says:

    Some brilliant tips, thank you. I am always really worried about this and really don’t want to check my usually small bags at all because I have heard so many horror stories of how bags are treated but they don’t give you a choice sometimes.

  4. Janice says:

    Great post. Really helpful, thanks.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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