What To Do when Your Luggage is Lost

It’s the last thing you want to have happen when you’re traveling: your bag doesn’t show up at the baggage carousel. It has an immediate impact on your psyche, not to mention your itinerary.
But if the airline loses or mishandles your bag, there are a few steps you can and should take before you ever leave the airport, and a couple steps to take before you ever even get there.
The Palermo (Italy) Airport baggage claim.
We want to say this upfront: above all, don’t vent your frustration on the person at the lost luggage counter
Next, before you ever get to the airport, pack your essentials in your carry-on: your medication, laptop, papers for your presentation, and anything else you can’t afford to be without. I once read a story that involved a woman whose lost bag included her laptop with a sales presentation she was to give the next day. She got her bag back in time, but we couldn’t help wonder, why would you ever relinquish control of the most important part of your trip?
Be sure to take a change of clothing in your carry-on, even if you pack your other clothes in your checked bag, and especially if you’re traveling to an area with inclement weather, or if it’s particularly hot when you’re traveling.
If you’re traveling during the holidays, ship all your gifts ahead to your final destination rather than packing them up. This way, your gifts will arrive on time, even if your luggage is delayed.
Before you leave the airport, you must report the bag as lost. You can do this at any lost luggage counter at a major airport, or by asking any airline employee for assistance at a smaller airport. Most airlines require reports be filed within four hours, although some allow 24 hours. Your claim must be filed with the airline your flight originated with, even if you arrived at your final destination on a connecting carrier. Be sure to get a copy of the form you file.
Find out who, when, and where the airline intends to deliver your bag. Typically, a found bag will be taken to your residence, if the mishandling occurs at the end of your trip, or to your hotel. This is usually done at no cost to you, but some airlines may ask you to pay a delivery fee. If you’re staying at a hotel, let the front desk staff know that you’re expecting a bag.
Ask what kind of assistance the airline can offer you in replacing the items you’ll need to continue on your trip. Many airlines cover all or some of the cost of purchasing new clothing and some offer toiletries if the bag is only delayed, not lost. Keep in mind there’s no law governing what they must do. Each airline has its own guidelines.
If your bag doesn’t surface after five days, it is classified as “maybe really lost,” and you should file the appropriate claim for complete reimbursement. Since this is always a possibility, snap a few pictures of your bag’s contents before each trip so you have something to use when you file your claim. The current maximum reimbursement for a lost bag on a domestic flight is $3500. The amount for a bag lost internationally is $1600. It all comes down to negotiation and paperwork, so if you want any money for your lost suit, you need to produce a receipt, even if you bought it years ago.
Have you ever had a bag lost or delayed? How did you deal with it? Did you get it back? Let us hear from you in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.
Photo credit: Bernhard J. Scheuvens (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)