What to Do When An Airline Loses Your Bag – Jetset Christina

Is there anything more infuriating than when an airline “misplaces” your bag?? In the last month, I’ve been on a special streak of bad luck when it comes to airlines losing my luggage – it has happened to me not once, not twice, but THREE times in the last month. So, you can say I’ve become a bit of an expert when it comes to how to deal with the airline to get them to 1) FIND your bag quickly, 2) get it to you, and 3) COMPENSATE you .. a LOT. Because losing a bag is a big ol’ hassle and the last thing any of us want to deal with when we’re on our way to vacation – or worse, something like a destination wedding or a honeymoon where your outfits are in the bag! 

First of all, let me say that all three of these times that an airline “lost” my luggage, I DID get my bag back. Although it’s the scariest thing ever when an airline literally tells you they don’t know where your bag is (this happened to me with IcelandAir and I couldn’t believe it. Luckily, I talked, tweeted, and called every single person I could until someone by some miracle found it almost A WEEK later), but this is very, very rare. Usually, the airline can track it down easily with the number on your bag tag (always, always keep your bag tag sticker you get when you check into the flight!). 

The chances of an airline actually losing your bag (i.e. you never see it again) are very, very small. But, there is a roughly 1 in 175 chance that your bag won’t arrive with you at your destination. This is usually due to short connections, flying multiple airlines, or just flat out bad luck. Of these mishandled bags, under 7% are truly lost for good, which works out to roughly 1 in every 2,500 passengers, but I’m sorry that is still way too many for my comfort. (So please check out my article on How to Prevent An Airline From Losing Your Luggage: 5 Things Never to Pack in Your Checked Bag) I think if you prepare for the worst, you won’t have to worry about the chances that something will go wrong, and if it does… I got you.

Here’s what you should do as soon as you have that heart-attack moment of the baggage carousel slowing down, with no luggage in sight.

Step 1. Keep calm, and be sweet

As they say, you get more bees with honey than vinegar. Although travel can be stressful, and missing luggage only ups our anxiety and cortisone levels, keep in mind that the staff member at the airport had nothing to do with the mishandling, and they can actually play a big part in helping you GET your bag back! So stay calm, be nice to them, and follow the steps below!

Step 2. Immediately report your bag missing with the agents at the airport

They will take down your address and locate the bag with the airline so they can get it to you (hopefully as quickly as within 24 hours). Document everything, from the person you talked to, to the case # of the missing bag, to any phone numbers you need to call.

If you were on a connecting itinerary with more than one airline, the lost luggage claim must be filed with the operating airline of your last flight, as that airline is ultimately responsible for delivering your bag to you, even if the bag never made it into their system. 

The airport agents will organize delivery of your bag to your local address. Do not offer to return to the airport to retrieve your bags. Even if the agent suggests you wait in the airport for your bag to arrive on the next flight, you should say no. If your bag hasn’t arrived with you on your flight, the airline and their baggage office is now responsible for getting it to you. It should not interfere with your vacation any more than it already has. 

Step 3. Call the airline and find out their policy for lost luggage

Tell them you’ve reported the bag at the airport but find out their policies and if there are any extra steps you need to take to get your bag in your hands. It’s important on this call to find out exactly how much an airline can compensate you… because we’re about to move on to the best step of all….

Step 4. GO SHOPPING!!!!! 

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The reality is that if you don’t have your bag, the airline is responsible for any and all things you need for your trip. You just need to save all of your receipts and complete all of the necessary paperwork in order to get compensated.

While you need to check with your specific airline on their rules and protocol, most airlines don’t even have a limit on what they’ll compensate you for lost luggage.

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Of course, you have to stay somewhat reasonable – it will be hard to explain that Hermes bag or diamond bracelet that you just NEEDED for your trip, but if you keep it reasonable, you can have a great excuse to go shopping on your vacation! When I recently lost my bag in Maui, I was left with no makeup, no clothes or shoes for an event I was attending, no swimsuit, nothing. So I went to Sephora and stocked up on new makeup, cleansers, etc, and then went clothes shopping and had the best time!

It was a bit scary spending hundreds of dollars on clothes and hoping the airline would cover it, but I knew I needed clothes, underwear, makeup, a swimsuit, etc to get me through the next few days, and there was no sign of my bag coming anytime soon, so I just did it, and I’ve been compensated for all of it since.

I have a friend who was in Aspen when the airline lost her bag, and was nervous to go shopping (since in Aspen it’s pretty much $200 sweater or nothing), but she was compensated fully for every single thing she bought. I would just recommend being prepared to explain why you need each thing you purchase (although you likely won’t need to explain yourself when getting compensated).

Also note that if you’re arriving back home after a vacation or business trip, the airline usually won’t cover any of these expenses (aside from getting your bag to you), as you should be able to simply go home and have access to all of your essentials. 

Step 5. Track your bag, and get it back to you!

While I like being able to track where my bag is, and when it should get back to me (by packing an air tag ideally), I can’t stress enough how important it is you do this only once or twice max a day. It is easy to get wrapped up in the “where is my bag” circle, and the reality is, it will get there when it gets there. You don’t want to look back and realize you wasted so much of your vacation finding wifi to look up your bag!!!

Here are links to some of the biggest US airlines’ online bag lookups:

  • American: Enter your first name, last name and file number.
  • Delta: Expand the Delayed Baggage header and enter you last name and bag tag number or file reference number.
  • United: Enter your file reference number and last name.

Step 6. Escalate the situation if necessary

If there is something out of the norm going on (ie the airline can’t find your bag, or doesn’t give you an ETA), it’s time to escalate the situation. I had no idea until losing my bag that Twitter is now the biggest customer service channel for airlines. I had multiple emails and instagram DM’s respond to me from airlines saying that I should reach out via twitter – because that’s where they have active customer service people dealing with things like this every day. So get on Twitter, and send a message to the airline explaining your situation. It works!!! I’m pretty sure this is how I was (finally) able to find my bag with Icelandair. 

Step 7. Submit all of your receipts for reimbursement 

Let’s hope you have your bag by now! Go ahead and submit all of your receipts for reimbursement (ask your airline how to do this specifically for their process). It will take about 2 weeks to get your money back, but they’ll get it to you!

What to do if an airline loses your bag forever

An airline will usually classify your bag as truly “lost” if you don’t have your bag after 14-21 days. Once this classification happens, you are now able to file a claim with the airline for LOST (not delayed) baggage – which will allow for higher compensation. Look into your airline’s specific protocol for this, but most claims will ask that you list out everything that was in the bag and some may ask for purchase dates of each item and original receipts. 

Check out my related blog posts here!

How to Prevent Losing Your Bag on Your Next Flight & 5 Things to Never Pack in Your Checked Bag

The Best Luggage for Travel

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Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.