Have you ever found yourself standing next to the baggage carousel, waiting patiently as all the other passengers lay claim to their bags, only to discover that your bag hasn’t made the journey with you?? To make matters worse, you didn’t pack spare clothes in your carry-on, you have a big event to attend that evening and everything you own is stuck in that suitcase!! Now what?

In recent years airlines have been working hard to decrease the number of mishandled or lost bags on their flights. With the combination of new technology and fewer bags being checked in by passengers, airlines have started to see a notable improvement. According to SITA, an aviation communication and technology company, there were over twenty million fewer mishandled bags last year. That is a significant improvement considering there has been a 65% passenger increase on flights in the last ten years.

Unfortunately though, no matter how many improvements are being made, the reality is bags are still going to get lost or mishandled. Airports have to function under a wide variety of circumstances, making these mishaps somewhat unavoidable. Delays, cancellations, misconnections, late check-ins, and human error all play a role in whether or not your bag will arrive safely to its final destination. According to SITA, “6.96 out of 1000 passengers” had bags mishandled last year. When bags do go missing SITA states that “81% get delivered to passengers unscathed. Damaged luggage or bags with items stolen add up to nearly 16% of mishandled bag reports, while bags declared lost or stolen amount to 3% of all mishandled bags.”

lost luggage

Okay, so there you are standing next to the empty baggage carousel with no sign of your belongings. Congratulations, you are now one of the millions of people who will have their bags mishandled this year. So what’s next? How do go about resolving this predicament and what steps do you need to take to ensure the safe return of your luggage?

The first thing you need to do when stuck in this situation is to report your luggage missing immediately before leaving the airport. Every baggage area should have a desk or office location where you can file this claim. This process can be frustrating and may take time, so be patient. The airline representative will likely ask you for your luggage receipt which is why it is extremely important to keep this tag with you at all times. It is not a piece of paper that should be carelessly left in a seat back pocket or tossed in the garbage with your trash. The number on this baggage receipt will help the representative determine whether your luggage is delayed, left behind in transit or completely lost. Once a representative determines the fate of your bag, the next step is to file a report claiming the items inside your bag. Be sure to list anything of value and leave a clear description of what your bag looks like.

Best-case scenario, your bag was simply delayed for some reason, is being sent on the next available flight and will be delivered safely to your hotel within 24hrs. In this situation, some airlines will reimburse passengers for “reasonable” expenses that were entailed while waiting for bags to be returned. This might include buying a new toothbrush to buying a new pair of shorts. Be sure to keep all your receipts and read your airline’s baggage policy closely before assuming you’re covered.

Worst-case scenario, your bag was deemed lost and unfortunately will not be arriving safely to your hotel in the next 24hrs. In this situation, the first thing you must do is review the maximum claim allowance that your airline offers. This can be found on your carrier’s website or on the back of your baggage ticket. Some airlines will only offer upwards of $200, however most airlines in North America have a liability of covering around $3,000 for mishandled bags. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

lost luggage

Flyers beware: If you did not check your bag in before the appropriate deadline (Ex: 1-2 hours prior to departure), your airline may not be responsible for any reimbursements. Be sure to review your airline’s baggage policies prior to any trip so that you are clear on their rules and regulations.

If you’ve ever experienced either of these scenarios, you probably know how frustrating it can be. Fortunately though, there are several steps you can take to help ensure the safe arrival of your luggage.

Tips for lost luggage

#1– Avoid booking flights with short connections. If you have to run to catch your next flight, chances are the crews trying to offload your bags won’t have enough time to transfer them to your next flight.

#2 – Never check bags last minute! Depending on whether your flight is international or domestic, always check your bag in at least 1-2 hours prior to departure. This will ensure that your bag has the appropriate amount of time to clear security screening and be placed onboard the plane.

#3 – Remove any old baggage tags from your luggage and confirm that the person checking your bag has placed the appropriate destination tag on your luggage.

#4 – Put your name and contact information on the inside and outside of your luggage. You can also buy an electronic baggage tag that allows you to track your luggage via a smartphone. Check out “GPS Luggage tags” for more information.

#5 – Keep your baggage receipt on you and in a safe place at all times. This ticket will become your best friend if your bag gets lost.

#6 –Most importantly, pack a few essentials in a carry-on incase you need to survive 24hrs without your luggage. This includes a change of clothes, important documents, expensive items such as jewelry or laptops, and any medications you might need.

Ever wonder what happens to the 2-3% of bags that never get returned safely to their owners? Airlines will usually keep unclaimed luggage in the airport terminal for approximately 5 days before shipping it to a central warehouse location. In the United States, the unclaimed baggage center is located in Scottsboro, Alabama. Being shipped here is bad news for your luggage! If your bag isn’t claimed within 60 days, the warehouse will then donate or auction your belongings off to random buyers. Yikes!!!