There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination ready for fun and adventure and finding out your luggage didn’t arrive with you. We all at least know someone who has experienced this, it happened to me on a recent trip abroad.
So, what do you do when your luggage isn’t where it should be?
Don’t panic. Really, panic won’t help. Odds are good your luggage isn’t lost; it just didn’t make it onto the
plane. This can happen for many reasons, if you checked in last minute, if you had to change planes, especially if the first flight was delayed, if the flight was overweight; this last one happens a lot with US domestic flights. Some US airlines contract with the postal service to carry mail and personal luggage will be bumped if the flight is overweight. You’re going to have to communicate with people now, so staying calm is important.
Find the lost luggage counter and file a report. Someone who works at the airport will know where to direct you. It’s very important that you do this right away. If you leave the airport and try and call the airline later they may deny any claim for compensation. Don’t worry if it’s late or early in the morning, there’s usually someone there.
You’ll be asked to describe the bag, if you have a picture that’s really helpful. Also, if the tags fell off your bag it will be helpful to have a packing list. They may ask you describe the contents of your bag for further identification.
You’ll be given a claim number and a phone number to call for updates, put it in a safe place, you’ll need it.
Note: If you’re overseas and the airport isn’t a hub your airline might not have a representative at the counter. US based airlines often don’t. Check with the airline before you fly to find out who you’re supposed to talk to in the event of a problem, they may partner with a local airline. If not, you may have to incur some international calling charges to call your airline’s main office.
Ask about reimbursement for emergency necessities. Every airline is a little different in this regard. The airline will have a certain amount they are authorized to reimburse you for necessities while they try and locate your bag. It may be $50 or $100, maybe a little more, but don’t count on it being enough to replace everything you packed. This is for emergency replacements: bras, underwear, a few pieces of clothing, things you can’t live without.
Different airlines will have different ways for you to claim your reimbursement, so be sure to ask at the lost luggage counter if they don’t tell you.
Note: Second hand stores will be your friend for replacing clothes at this point.
Provide them with an address. The airline is required to get your bag to you once it’s found. If you have friends or family in the area, have the bags sent to them and pick them up from there. If not, and you are moving to different places, provide them with the first address and keep them updated as you travel. You will not have to pay for your bags to be shipped, that’s on them.
Note: You are entitled to the return of any fees incurred for checking luggage.
Follow up. Don’t expect the airline to call with regular updates. Call every couple days to find out where
they are in the process of locating your bag. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on hold.
What if your luggage can’t be located? Airlines have different waiting periods for declaring a piece of luggage lost. It may be a couple weeks or a whole month. Check your airline’s policy. Once your bag is declared lost they must reimburse you for the contents.
However, many airlines have caps on reimbursement and in many cases they will only reimburse you for the depreciated value of the item, not the full cost. If you’re packing anything brand new or an expensive bottle of alcohol, save your receipts, that will make it easier to get full value for those items. This is also where a packing list will come in handy, so you won’t forget anything.
Note: If you have travel insurance they may also have a reimbursement policy for lost luggage, so read your policy and don’t be afraid to call them.
The most important thing is to have patience, because you’re going to need it.