Airline Lost Your Luggage? 7 Things to Do Next

Three out of every 1,000 bags are mishandled. If it happens to you, it’s vital to take action right away. Here's how.

Report your lost luggage immediately

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Especially after a late-night or red-eye flight, it can be difficult to muster the energy to find the airport’s baggage claim office, but waiting to report your lost luggage is risky. Many airlines mandate that you report your lost luggage within a certain time period, some as short as four hours, in order to receive reimbursement for any purchases you need to make without your luggage. Here’s the good news: 79 percent of all mishandled bags are simply delayed, according to SITA’s 2016 Baggage Report. Report your missing bags immediately, noting their identification numbers on your baggage claim stubs, so you can get them back as soon as possible. (Related: Here are common packing mistakes to avoid.)

Make a list

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More good news: according to SITA’s report, on average it took airlines less than two days to locate and reconnect lost baggage with its owners in 2015, so you likely won’t spend a significant amount of time scouting out makeshift clothes and borrowing toothpaste. But you will likely need a few basic toiletries and pieces of clothing in the short term anyway, so start thinking about what those might be. While it’s likely that your bag will be recovered soon, in the slim case that it isn’t, make a list about what was in the bag. This will come in handy in case the airline does actually lose your bag, in which case you’ll likely want to file a reimbursement claim. (Related: Find out how you pack a suitcase can predict your personality.)

Request reimbursement for purchases that will tide you over

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Most airlines will provide for the basic necessities you purchase while you wait for your bag. That means that buying small amounts of necessary toiletries, underwear, and inexpensive clothing that will not only keep you feeling clean and fresh without all of your belongings, but will also likely be cost-free to you. Check with your airline about its specific policy, and keep on hand a list of items you purchase, your receipts, your baggage claim stubs and your ticket receipt, Condé Nast Traveler suggests. Check with the airline to find out how to request reimbursement and be prepared to wait up to a month or more for your money back.

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Get a refund on your baggage fee

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You likely paid an aggravatingly expensive amount for your baggage to accompany you on your flight, and now you find out that it didn’t. You deserve your money back, so make sure to request a refund from the airline. Some credit card companies will also provide reimbursements for necessary purchases or items inside the baggage if it’s permanently lost, depending on whether you used that card to book the air tickets. Check with your provider for details.

Monitor the search for your bag

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You’ve filed a missing report for your bag, you’ve purchased some basic necessities in the meantime and you’re now in waiting mode. Make sure to follow up with the airline on the progress of the search for your bag, noting if they have located it and how you will eventually be able to reunite with it. (Related: Got lots of small items to pack? Check out these hacks for packing small items.)

If your bag is lost, file a claim

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`In the case that the airline cannot locate your luggage and it’s officially declared lost, the airline is required to reimburse you for the bag and its contents, according to the laws of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Montreal Convention, according to Condé Nast Traveler.  Here’s where that list of items in the bag comes in handy, but remember that the airline likely won’t pay for the items at full value. Instead, they’ll pay a depreciated price, as the goods had likely already been owned and used by you. But don’t be discouraged; airlines can pay as much as $3,300 per passenger for lost luggage on domestic flights and $1,750 for what’s lost on international flights, depending on the situation. Once again, communicate with representatives from your airline to understand its specific policy. (Related: Here are vacation items you'll always regret packing.)

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Keep your luggage from getting lost in the future

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To avoid losing a bag in the first place, make sure to remove all old bag tags from your luggage before new flights in the future, so airline personnel don’t mistakenly send your bag to the wrong flight. Mark your bag with a tag with your name and contact information, or at least put it somewhere inside of your bag if you want to keep that information secret. Take a photo of your luggage and have it handy, for both the purposes of identifying it amongst dozens of look-alikes at the carousel and to aid an airline representative's attempts to track it if needed. Finally, keep your valuables or true necessities with you in a carry-on bag during your flight; that way you’ll have them with you no matter what. Here’s how to make the most of your carry-on bag.

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