You’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity at the luggage carousel when the constant flow of bags onto the conveyor belt slows to a trickle, then stops. Your belongings are nowhere to be found.

Alternatively, your bags may appear, but they appear to have been tossed around in a furious gorilla’s cage for fun. Who is responsible for your luggage being damaged, delayed, or lost?

Airlines have been sending a few bags somewhere other than where they were meant to go for as long as they’ve been checking baggage. Fortunately, airlines have recently performed better than they did 20 years ago, increasing your odds of a good conclusion for two reasons:

  • They’re not losing as many bags. For decades, the government has kept track of mishandled bag reports, and the frequency of mishandled bag reports per 100,000 passengers has declined from seven in the early 1990s to around three since 2021.
  • They’re becoming better at finding lost baggage. The airlines’ systems keep great track of bags using barcoded tags and even a few RFID-enabled tags. When I’ve had a luggage problem in the past, an employee at the lost-baggage counter has been able to inform me where my bag was and when it will come.

Although airline performance has improved, what to do when a suitcase is mishandled by an airline has remained mostly the same since the 1990s. Following are instructions on what to do if your luggage is delayed, misplaced, or damaged, as well as prevention recommendations.


What to Do If Your Luggage Is Delayed

Don’t get too worked up if your baggage don’t appear on the carousel. The majority of “lost” luggage is actually delayed rather than lost. An airline can usually reunite you with your luggage within 24 hours.

When you know your suitcase won’t appear on the carousel, proceed to your airline’s lost-baggage station, which can be found in most major airport baggage areas. Ask any airline staff where to go in smaller airports. Report lost baggage before leaving the airport, even if you have somewhere to be.

(Some airline contracts require you to file within four hours of arrival; others need you to file within 24 hours.) When filing your claim, provide the attendant with your hotel or home address as well as a phone number where you can be reached.

Fill out the form and hand over your baggage check (but write down the numbers), making sure to copy any important tracking numbers, websites, and phone numbers (some airlines have an online system while others will provide you with a phone number to call for updates). Take down the name of the agent who will be handling your claim as well as the approximate arrival time of your bag.

If your luggage is on the next aircraft, you could get them in a matter of hours. It could take a number of days if they were shipped to the wrong airport. You deal with the airline that flew you to your ultimate destination if your baggage is delayed on a connecting route involving more than one airline, even if you believe the initial airline is to blame.


How can I find my lost luggage?

Stay calm

Keep your cool! Panic will not assist you. Yes, this is a tough and unpleasant position, but you will overcome it. Your suitcase was most likely misplaced and can be rebooked on the next trip to your destination. Take a deep breath and remain calm. Also keep in mind that today’s airlines have advanced luggage tracking systems. Keep your cool; you’ll make it!


Go to the luggage claim department

If the luggage carousel is empty and your suitcase is missing, proceed to the airport’s baggage claim office and file a lost luggage report. Do not collect $200 if you pass go.

Do not hesitate to report a lost suitcase because some airlines require you to do so within a particular number of hours. Make sure to include the claim ticket identification numbers.

The act of submitting a report accomplishes two vital goals. One, it informs the airline that your suitcase must be located. Second, it generates a paper trail that will allow you to get reimbursement for products purchased as a result of your lost bag if necessary.

Request a copy of the report, write down the name of the person who assisted you, obtain a contact phone number (important for following up if your bag isn’t discovered), and keep your luggage tickets. Here are some key questions to consider:

  • Are you able to locate my bag?
  • For updates on my missing suitcase, what number should I call?
  • When will the airline provide me with an update on my missing bag?
  • Will your organization pay to have my luggage delivered to my hostel/hotel if my bag is found?


Check into your hostel/hotel

There’s not much else you can do at the airport after you’ve completed your report, so now is a good time to check into your hostel or hotel. You might want to replace any of your missing items, such as hygiene and basic clothing.

Inquire with your hotel about where you can get such products for a reasonable price or if they will provide them for you. (Sorry, but a new iPad doesn’t count as a necessity unless you can verify you put one in your missing suitcase.) Keep track of your expenses and save any receipts!


Make contact with the airline

Be proactive and get updates instead than waiting for them to call. You can also request (politely!) that your checked baggage cost be reimbursed.

You paid the price to assure that your suitcase would be there for you when you arrived, but the airline failed to deliver! If your bag is lost or delayed, several airlines may pay you. You might also contact your credit card company to see if they will refund you for your missing bag.

Just make sure you paid for the flight with their card, then call your credit card provider to find out.

Travel insurance is your best bet for recouping any losses. For further information, see MGS Insurance Agency.