Believe it or not, it’s actually rare for an airline to lose a bag, but it only has to happen once to ruin a trip. Before you shout, “Help, the airline lost my bag!” read this. It explains what you must do and how to collect any compensation you’re owed.
Before you fly
Use a carry-on: This is the one bag that won’t get lost because it travels by your side. Even if you have to pay a fee for your carry-on, we think it’s worth it. Tip: Check airline size and weight allowances for carry-ons; if your bag is too big or too heavy, a gate agent may take it from you to be checked.
No valuables in checked-bags: Sometimes you need a bigger bag but do not put valuables in it. Must-have valuables like electronics, jewelry, eyeglasses or medications should be kept on your person or in a carry-on.
Take a picture, leave a card: Do you know exactly what your suitcase looks like and its manufacturer? A lot of us don’t, so take a picture of your bag before you go to the airport in case you have to describe it later. Slip a business card inside the bag, too, so it can be identified in the event ID tags fall off.
Don’t leave the airport: No matter how tired you are, do not leave the airport without first making a missing bag report. Do this for lost bags, and do it for damaged bags. Failure to make a report could mean no compensation for your loss and a longer wait for the bag’s return. Fill out the missing bag form at the airline baggage office located near the baggage carousel; if no one is in the office, call the airline, or talk to any airline representative in the airport.
Contact the right airline: If you flew non-stop when your bag went missing, you know which airline lost your bag, but if you flew a connecting route with multiple airlines or codeshare partners, it’s not so obvious. Here is the rule: Whichever airline flew you to your final destination is the airline to contact for missing bags.
Hold on to documents, receipts: After you fill out the missing bag form, keep a copy in a safe place, and hang on to any receipts for items you had to buy because of your loss (things like toiletries, etc.). You may need this documentation later to be compensated for your loss. Tip: Take pictures of receipts so everything is on your phone.
Fee Refunds: The Department of Transportation mandates that checked-bag refunds may be given for lost bags and even delayed bags (12 hours or longer for domestic flights, 18 hours or more for international travel). It may be up to you to let the airline know you get a refund; put this on your to-do list.
Airline lost bag coverage: If your bag is lost, you will probably get some compensation; airlines cover losses of up to $3,000 or more which usually requires filling out a lengthy an online claim form on the airline’s website.
Keep receipts for necessities: If a bag goes missing for several hours or longer, most airlines will refund you the price of some toiletries, and possibly more expensive items depending on how long the bag is lost. Again, keep all receipts; you’ll need them as prove how much you spent.