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It happens to the best of us. You’re waiting to receive your luggage at baggage claim and yours is no where to be found. Luckily, airlines have been doing better with losing luggage, so you’re chances of this happening are a lot slimmer than they were 20 years ago. However, although airline performance has improved, what you do when an airline loses a bag remains about as it was in the 1990s. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, stay calm and read these tips on what to do if your checked bag is lost.
Most “lost” baggage really isn’t lost, but rather just delayed. In most cases, an airline can return your luggage to you in less than 24 hours.
Once you realize that your bag isn’t going to show up on the carousel, go immediately to your airline’s lost-baggage counter. In smaller airports, ask any airline employee where to go. It is important to report missing baggage before you leave the airport. If your baggage is delayed on a connecting itinerary involving more than one airline, you deal with the airline that flew you to your destination.
Hand over your baggage check and fill out the form. Be sure to get a copy, with the relevant tracking numbers, airline phone number or baggage-tracking website, etc. Note the name of the agent that handles your claim, and note the estimated time your bag will arrive.
Ask exactly how, when, and where the airline plans to deliver your luggage. Usually, an airline delivers your bag to a local hotel or residence address the same day the bag arrives at your airport. If you need a different delivery location, just ask. Airlines usually deliver delayed bags at no cost, but some may ask you to pay.
Ask what the airline provides in this case. At the very least, airlines typically cover overnight needs such as toothpaste. If your bag is lost on a flight arriving at an airport other than your home, many airlines offer to cover all or part of the cost of items you may need to continue your vacation. Some airlines offer a set daily allowance; others offer to reimburse you for items you buy on the basis of receipts. Some airlines will not offer anything other than retrieving your bad.
If you don’t get your bag back within five days, the bag may be actually lost. You have to submit more information, but you can also enter more claims. An airline defines “really lost” at anywhere from five to 30 days, at which point both you and the airline proceed on the assumption that you’ll never see your bag again.
Airlines usually won’t take responsibility for minor damage to your luggage, such as bumps and scratches. Airlines will usually cover broken fragile items packed in your luggage if they are packed in a container designed for shipping. Airlines won’t take responsibility for damage that occurred during a TSA inspection. In the event that you think your baggage was damaged during a TSA inspection (All inspected bags will have a written notification inside.), call 866-289-9673.
Alaska is the only big airline that provides any monetary compensation for delayed baggage. If the line doesn’t deliver your checked baggage within 20 minutes of arrival at the gate, it issues a voucher for $25 toward a future flight or 2,500 frequent-flyer miles. But this rule applies to all baggage, not just delayed baggage.
Other airlines do not issue any compensation for delayed baggage, even when you pay a checked-bag fee. Congress recently urged the DOT to rule that airlines must refund baggage fees if baggage isn’t delivered within 24 hours.
Whether delayed or really lost, baggage has a current maximum loss/damage claim of $3,500 on a completely domestic flight. The cap on international flights, including domestic segments, is set at 1,131 Special Drawing Rights, currently worth about $1,600.
Any claim process is obviously a negotiation. Airlines say they cover only depreciated value of what you lost. They ask for receipts, no matter how old the item may be. The airline may also offer you a voucher for future travel.
Don’t put your valuables or important items in your checked baggage (medicine, important papers, jewelry, laptops). Carry it with you. Make a list of packed items and their estimated value before you leave. Keep receipts for expensive items you pack. If you absolutely have to check some of those items, insure them separately: An airline won’t cover them even if you buy excess-value coverage. Also, be sure to remove old claim tags to prevent confusion about your destination.
Ed Perkins, Smarter Travel | September 29, 2016