What to Do If an Airline Loses Your Luggage

Airlines Lost Luggage
Photo: John Lund/Getty Images

With the advent of better technology in the aviation industry, airlines are getting better all the time. At least when it comes to baggage.

For example, a 2017 article from The Department of Transportation reported that less than .03 percent of passengers experience mishandled baggage — the lowest rate since the Department of Transportation started collecting data on bags in 1987.

However, there are still an unlucky few who will have to jump through hoops to get their luggage back after a flight.

The first step to finding a bag that doesn't show up at the baggage claim is to let the airline know it is missing ASAP. It may be helpful to have some pictures of luggage on your phone to show airport staff. Regardless, be sure to know a bag's brand, size, and color before takeoff. Airlines will use this information when hunting down luggage.Travelers should be sure to hold onto their claim check (usually a sticker stuck on the back of a boarding pass) as that little barcode could be vital in confirming a bag's identity.

“Don't let them forget about you.”

Anybody dealing with a lost bag should stay in constant contact with their airline until they are reunited with their suitcase, Richie Copelovitch of iFLY Luggage advises.

"Don't let them forget about you. Do it nicely," Copelovitch told Travel + Leisure. "The airline does not care that you will not have clothes for Aunt Millie's wedding, don't tell them the stories that they don't need to know. It won't get you your bag faster."

Check on compensation.

Travelers should enquire about airline policy for lost luggage as they may be entitled to compensation. In instances where a bag is lost for more than 24 hours, airlines may be required to compensate travelers with a clothing allowance.

For those who lost their toiletries while in transit, airlines usually have small amenity kits with toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to hand out.

Prevent your bag from getting lost.

But of course, the best way to deal with a lost bag is to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place. Travelers who are particularly anxious about losing luggage can opt to buy a GPS tracker to stick inside any suitcase that can track itself through the airport via an app.

Passengers should also know that how you fly matters. Airlines Qatar and Delta have both implemented their own tracking technology inside of luggage stickers that allows passengers to track their bags until the very moment they are reunited. Delta is also the major U.S. carrier least likely to lose luggage.

Don't forget the ID tags.

And there are also some more old school tricks. Travelers should make sure every piece of luggage they're checking has an identification tag with their name and contact information. After handing over a bag to the airline counter, travelers should ensure that the luggage sticker has both their correct name and final destination (mistakes can happen).

Copelovitch also advised that fliers avoid traveling with luggage that's overweight or broken.

"Don't pack in old suitcases that might break or open before they get to the plane," he told T+L. "If that happens before your bag makes it to the plane, it will get put aside without question. If your luggage is worn out, replace it to save a lot of headaches."

On the other side of the equation, if airlines have unclaimed luggage, they are required to spend 90 days trying to reunite the bag with its owner. If after 90 days no one shows up to collect the bag, the airline can resell it to somewhere like the Unclaimed Luggage Center, which lets shoppers peruse lost items like a thrift store.

Travelers who have ever lost items while traveling may find a few familiar items in the shop's aisles.

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