What To Do if Your Checked Bag Gets Lost, What You’re Owed

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Given this summer’s slew of flight disruptions at airports around the country, some of the chaos is bound to extend to the handling of passengers’ checked baggage. Especially considering that much of air travel’s woes have been attributed to airlines and airports being short-staffed.

So, even if your flight isn’t cancelled or delayed this summer, you may have to contend with another headache—that is, your luggage getting lost or delayed. It’s every air passenger’s nightmare. So, what recourse do you have if it happens to you?

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told USA Today that the statistics available on lost luggage is likely a few months behind. “I think that it is reasonable to assume that the rate of bags being mishandled in the U.S. is probably a little bit higher right now given the problems that are plaguing the airlines in general,” he opined.

“All those things put stress on the system, and it’s not as though the baggage handling system is somehow completely immune from those factors,” said Keyes. He did point out that the issue is even more prevalent in Europe right now, with staffing shortages leading to such situations as the mountain of luggage that recently overtook London’s Heathrow airport after a tracking system malfunctioned.

What To Do if an Airline Loses Your Bags:

Founder of Nash Travel Management, Olivia Nash Richardson, told the outlet that travelers should keep a detailed list of what they’ve packed and photograph the bags’ contents in case they need proof. “Keep it on your phone or whatever so you know the approximate value of what you’re packing,” she said.

She also advised taking photos of the luggage itself, noting the brand, dimensions and other distinguishing features. If your bags don’t seem to have arrived at your destination, Richardson recommends going straight to your airline’s luggage counter with all of this information, remaining at the airport until the loss is resolved.

A busy airport baggage claim area. (photo via kyolshin/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Will an Airline Compensate You for Lost Baggage?

If an airline loses or delays your luggage, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires it to compensate passengers for, “reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed–subject to the maximum liability limits.”

For domestic flights, that liability limit is $3,800, but only about $1,780 for most international flights, though airlines can pay more at their own discretion. Richardson suggested researching your airline’s lost luggage policy before your trip, since such policies vary.

For example, American Airlines’ policy on delayed baggage states that the carrier will reimburse customers, “for items you need immediately while away from home without your bags.” It advises that you keep the original, dated, itemized receipts for such purchases, and also provide their file reference number, along with copies of their airline ticket receipt and baggage claim checks.

If the airline discovers that our bag isn’t just delayed, but well and truly lost, it must compensate you for the value of its content, factoring in depreciation and the above-referenced liability limits. Keyes said airlines generally try to reimburse customers for, “more or less the exact dollar amount that you lost.”

If you’re having trouble getting an airline to compensate you, either for expenses incurred during your travels due to lost luggage or for the value of misplaced baggage, Keyes advised filing a complaint directly with the DOT.

Unclaimed baggage
Unclaimed baggage on the tarmac. (Photo via Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

How Likely Is Your Bag To Go Missing Permanently?

According to the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report, U.S. airlines mishandled nearly 220,000 pieces of checked luggage in April 2022. Richardson opined that bags getting lost for good, “isn’t uncommon, but it isn’t as prevalent either.” From her own experience, she estimated that about 30 percent of lost bags never find their owners.

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Source: TravelPulse

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