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What to Do If the Airline Loses Your Luggage on Vacation

By Rachel Gresh
Read time: 5 minutes

In 2022, airlines mishandled an estimated 26 million bags. Fortunately, this is just a tiny percentage of the 4 billion bags transported annually, but it is still a concern — especially if your luggage is one of the unlucky few that gets delayed or lost. Whether your bags contain your swimsuit for a beach trip, hiking boots for a mountain adventure, or everyday items essential to your routine, traveling without them can be incredibly disruptive. These useful tips break down the best way to quickly tackle this problem so that you can retrieve your luggage, receive reimbursement, and get back to enjoying your vacation.

Check the App

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Plenty of travelers have experienced that sinking feeling at the baggage carousel as more luggage tumbles down, and theirs still isn’t in sight. But before heading to the customer service counter, see if you can check on the status of your bag via the airline’s app on your phone. Some airlines — including Southwest, American, Delta, and United — offer live baggage tracking on their apps. It may be that your bag is still on the tarmac, making its way over. This can take upwards of 45 minutes at large airports. It could also be at another carousel. If you use another tracking device, such as an Apple AirTag, now would be the time to see if you can locate it.

Notify the Airline

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If your luggage still doesn’t show up at baggage claim, it’s time to find an airline representative. You shouldn’t leave the airport until you have spoken to one — although this can be time-consuming and delay the start of your vacation, talking with someone in person can speed up the return of your luggage. Typically, customer service representatives near the baggage claim specialize in lost luggage. If not, head to the check-in desk, where someone might be able to assist. If you’re short on time, your last option is to call the airline’s customer service number, which can be found online. 

According to International Air Transport Association regulations, the airline that last handled your luggage is responsible for locating and returning it (even if you started your journey on a different airline). Airlines list their lost luggage policies on their websites, which can be a good reference if you forget something the agent tells you.

Ask a Representative These Important Questions

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Don’t end your conversation with the airline representative before addressing a few essential items. First, ensure you have filed a claim and received a claim number. This allows you to check on the airline’s progress in finding your luggage. Also, remember to ask for a phone number (or web address) that you can use to receive updates about your luggage. Some airlines also offer amenity kits to travelers with lost luggage (with essentials such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, hand sanitizer, etc.), so be sure to ask about those free items.

File a Claim for Reimbursement

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There is a difference between “lost” and “delayed” luggage. Many airlines don’t consider a bag lost until several days after your flight (usually between five and 21 days, depending on the airline). So, it’s important to know the difference when speaking with a representative and filing claims. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines must compensate travelers for “reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses” incurred due to delayed baggage. (It doesn’t have to be considered lost yet.) Be sure to keep your receipts when purchasing these replacement items, as you will need to submit them to the airline for reimbursement.

Reimbursement policies vary by airline, and there is a maximum liability limit, which the D.O.T. currently sets at $3,800 for domestic flights within the United States. This means that even if your expensive digital camera or wedding gown is in that bag, the airline does not necessarily have to compensate you for it. The maximum reimbursement for international flights is around $1,700 for U.S. passengers, per the Montreal Convention. Additionally, most airlines will only reimburse you for delays if you travel away from home; they might not offer you money if your luggage is delayed during your return flight. Submitting a claim online (regardless of the airline) is the fastest and easiest way to get a reimbursement so that you can purchase the necessary items and start your vacation.

Check Other Benefits

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While contacting the airline should always be first on your to-do list for lost luggage, it isn’t your only option. Other forms of reimbursement can include travel insurance (booked through a third party), your credit card company (if you booked using that card), or even your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. These policies vary greatly but can be accessed online, where you can read more about what you are entitled to and file a claim. Typically, a “proof of loss” statement from the airline will be required. These extra benefits are usually secondary, and you will first need to see what the airline is willing to cover.

Inspect Your Luggage

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When the airline hopefully does find your luggage, immediately inspect your bags and belongings for damage. If anything is damaged or missing, you usually only have 24 hours to file another claim for reimbursement. Remember to take pictures of damage in case the airline asks for proof. These types of claims can be submitted quickly through the airline’s website.

Note: All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. Daily Passport may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.

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