What To Do If Your Luggage Goes Missing When Flying

Empty Airport Baggage Claim Carousel


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Empty Airport Baggage Claim Carousel
Staying connected in this digital age

Take Photos, Lots of Them

If you’re taking a photo of your stove before leaving on vacation, do the same with your luggage and its contents, especially if they hold some financial or sentimental value. It’ll make it easier to substantiate claims and help airport staff track down your luggage if you can provide an accurate description (color, make, size, any special markers) of it and its contents. 

Pro Tip: If you can’t bear to be separated from certain items, hand carry them. “Fragile items and electronics are often not covered through the airline. While there may be coverage limits on certain expensive items, such as electronics, travel insurance may offer some reimbursement if the airlines exclude liability for items,” says Meghan Kayata from Insure My Trip.


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AirTag and Find My Mobile App

Travel Prepared

You’ve barely made it to your second flight, so what are the chances your luggage made it? This nerve-wracking experience can be managed pre-trip. “I was coming back to Miami from Perth, Australia. I used the 'Find My' app [and AirTags] to track my luggage real time; during each connecting flight; I was extremely disappointed but prepared when I noticed that only one of my two bags made it on the plane from LAX to MIA,” frequent traveler Michael Pelaez says. “The ability to have this information real-time allowed me to go to the counter and report my bag missing before the conveyor belt at baggage claim even started. My luggage finally made it on a plane overnight and in my hands the next day, but the piece of mind knowing exactly where it was the entire time was worth it.” 


Related: Carry-On Essentials to Pack for Your Next Flight

Baggage Claim

Be Patient and Wait

Singapore’s Changi Airport may be famous for transporting luggage from airplane to carousel in as little as 12 minutes, but all airports are different. If you’ve arrived at the baggage carousel and there’s no sign of your bag, look around surrounding carousels to see if it’s been placed there instead. If you can’t find it after 45 minutes, it’s probably time to file a claim.

Applying for job on internet, work searching

File a Report

Your bag has not shown up, and you can’t afford to wait around for it (some airlines do put delayed luggage on the next flight out). To make the lost baggage scenario easier to manage, travel-insurance expert Joe Cortez has some advice.

“Before leaving the airport, file a missing bag report immediately with the airline. The report will include the origin airport, the destination airport, a description of your luggage (type of luggage, shape, color, etc), and instructions on where to deliver it. From there, the airline will start an investigation on where the luggage is, and … provide regular updates on when it will arrive. If your luggage is lost, the best thing a traveler can do is to check in daily with their airline about their luggage situation, and start documenting purchases as a result of the lost baggage. If your bags are significantly delayed while away from home, you may be able to file a claim against the carrier [and not just travel insurance] to get reimbursed for replacement items.” 


Pro Tip: If you had a connecting flight, the claim needs to be filed with the airline of your last flight. Be sure to have your boarding pass handy and your baggage tag as well.

Travel insurance policy document with paperwork and technology.

Check Your Travel Insurance

Airlines will compensate for damaged or lost luggage, but they don’t always cover delayed luggage or electronics being misplaced. This is when travel insurance comes in handy. 


“Insurance will kick in and cover additional costs not covered by the airline. In some cases, you can even be reimbursed for delayed luggage [after a certain time frame]. Some plans will allow reimbursement for specific items like jewelry, electronics generally get reimbursed up to around $500,” according to Kalyn Johnson with Clearsurance. 


Pro Tip: According to Upgraded Points, credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Capital One Venture X Rewards all have up to $3,000 a person for lost luggage and up to $100 a day for a maximum of five days if your baggage is delayed by more than six hours.

Man Paying Bills and Banking Online

Create a Paper Trail

If you want to make sure your claim goes through, you have to be meticulous about the process. 


"Most travel insurance companies have an international line to call and check on your level of coverage. If you do need to purchase replacement items, be sure to keep all itemized receipts which show what you purchased, and how much was spent, as you will need to provide copies of these as part of your claim," says Cortez, the insurance expert. "When it comes time to file the claim, be sure to provide proof of the airline’s lost baggage report, an itemized list of everything purchased (including dates), and copies of receipts."

Pro Tip: Make sure you obtain a reference number for your claim from the airline.

Managing the day's inquiries

Enlist the Help of a Baggage Tracer

Bags are usually lost for at least five days. You can either sit and wait patiently or escalate the issue with the airline to track down your baggage. Some may offer a baggage tracer service, or if you have access to a travel membership program, or a corporate travel account, they may be able to help. 


Pro Tip: According to Travel Addicts, try and nail down an airline representative to “manually search the WorldTracer computer system for misdirected bags.” While the system is used by over 440 airlines and 2,800 airports, it is still a manual process, so get help! 

Lost luggage in the airport

21 Days Is the Cutoff

It’s important to keep track of how long your luggage has been mishandled. According to Jennifer Gregory, CEO and founder of Vegas Food & Fun, 21 days is generally the cutoff point (varies by airline) in which it is no longer delayed luggage but a lost baggage claim. 


“Usually, airlines can locate your luggage within a few hours, and can then send them to you. But if not, they will compensate you for the contents, up to a set limit. If after a few hours your airline cannot locate the luggage, this is when you can call your travel insurance, as in most cases they will compensate you, so that you at least have the means to buy some essentials as a replacement. I always recommend buying travel insurance that covers luggage, as this is such a common problem!” 

The suitcase lost by the airport staff lies on the floor. Concept of lost luggage.
Serhii Ivashchuk/istockphoto

Know What You're Entitled To

Travel insurance with baggage claim inclusions are great, but sometimes it may not be needed. According to the Department of Transportation, federal law requires “airlines are required to compensate passengers if their bags are damaged, delayed, or lost.” For international flights, the current limit is $1,780 (read more about the Montreal Convention, applicable to over 135 countries and territories), while the domestic flight limit is $3,800. Strict time limits apply, so it’s best to file a claim as soon as possible. 

Colorful display of sweaters on shelf in store

What Are Considered Essentials?

Just because your luggage has gone missing doesn't mean you can buy a new designer wardrobe. Though policy wordings can be vague, it’s important to purchase what's considered reasonable to be fully compensated. 


“I recommend essentials such as toiletries, clothes to sleep in, and two simple outfits with layers (pants, T-shirt, jumper, and a simple coat, for example). I'd also add on phone chargers and similar essentials if these were in your lost luggage,” according to Gregory. 

Pro Tip: When in doubt, call the airline to speak with an agent. Document the conversation so that when you submit a claim, you have corroborating evidence.

luggage chaos at airport
Mattin Ott/istockphoto

Your Luggage May Go on a Multicontinent Flight

Airlines of course do not want to mishandle your luggage. In addition to having to field customers' angry phone calls, they need to find a way to return every piece of luggage. In July Delta Air Lines flew a plane packed with 1,000 pieces of baggage from London to Detroit, after which Detroit-based Delta staff took over delivering bags to customers.

Air France Airbus A380

Get Support If You Flew on Air France

If your luggage has been misplaced or lost, you’re not the first or last unlucky soul. This Facebook group and Reddit thread provide plenty of useful advice on how to file claims against Air France (it's somewhat notorious for losing luggage), ranging from workarounds and its nonexisting customer hotline to why submitting a single inventory claim is better than multiple submissions.   


Pro Tip: The claim process can be overwhelming. Outsource the trouble to a service like My Fly Right that will navigate all the red tape for you. If your claim is successful, they’ll charge a commission fee, plus a statutory value added tax.

Girl holding smart phone with online shop concept on screen

You May Be Able to Buy Back Your Items

There is a store for everything including items from bags not claimed or reunited with their owners beyond the three-month period that airlines exhaust to try and reunite bags with their owners. Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama, will give it a second life. They have agreements to purchase unclaimed items from all domestic airlines. After sorting through the inventory, they resell them online. What have they found over the years? Everything from sporting goods to an Egyptian burial mask and a 15-string Renaissance lute! 

Clothes Shop Costume Dress Fashion Store Style Concept
Natee Meepian/istockphoto

Make a Case for Yourself

Arriving with no luggage is no fun, but it is advisable to be reasonable about purchasing necessities. Still you can also make a case for yourself based on the circumstances. “I was traveling from Washington, DC to Qatar in October 2022 and my luggage was delayed by 36 hours. Traveling from a cold climate to warm left me with no option but to buy 3 new dresses, flip flops, a swimsuit, and a bottle of nice perfume for which I was fully reimbursed. It is said that the insurance will reimburse you for the most needed items, well these were my most needed items provided the difference in climate I traveled to. There was no question asked,” travel expert Edyta Satchell says. 

Young businessman working

Don’t Wait to File

It pays to read the airline and travel insurance policy over delayed/lost baggage as each has varying timeframes to when compensation kicks in. This useful blog by Travel Addicts outlines some deadlines, the key ones being four hours from flight landing to file a complaint with the airline and 45 days to file the passenger property questionnaire with the airline whereby you “itemize your property and assign value to it.”

Pro Tip: If you’ve not received your bag after 100 days, consider it lost forever, as it will be removed from the WorldTracer system.

Flight delay concept. Detail of hand holding suitcase in front of clock and airport panel.
Carlos Pascual/istockphoto

Collecting Your Delayed Luggage

Depending on the situation, the airline may be able to send your delayed luggage directly to your residence or hotel, but sometimes it’s just faster to head to the airport to collect it. According to Satchell, this is also a claimable expense. “Not many people know that, you can also [be] reimbursed [for] trips to the airport to collect your luggage. It is a part of the unexpected expense.” 

The last bit of luggage left
Adene Sanchez/istockphoto

Sometimes It Makes Its Way Back to You

Stay positive, sometimes lost luggage does find its way back to you. At least that’s the takeaway from this YouTube video by HopeScope where the host deliberately leaves behind some luggage to see what happens. Spoiler alert, they got returned, with all her belongings intact. 

American Airlines fleet of airplanes with passengers at O'Hare Airport

Check Who You’re Flying With

According to the October 2022 Air Travel Consumer report, some 0.99 out of every 100 bags got misplaced on American Airlines if you had traveled with them in August 2022. Behind American were United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, which both scored 0.65 for that same month. The data doesn’t lie, so plan accordingly and maximize your cabin luggage allowance.  


Track Your Luggage In Real Time

Just because you’re taking a trip doesn’t mean your luggage has to as well. Before your trip, buy a GPS-, Wi-Fi-, or Bluetooth-enabled luggage tracker (Apple Air Tag, Tile Pro) to place inside your checked bags. Though you might still get separated from it, this way you’re able to see where it is, and where it’s heading which helps manage expectations.  


Pro Tip: Instead of your typical baggage tag which can easily get lost or torn off, the Dynotag Smart Tag contains a unique QR code with your personalized contact information. Using it give airlines no excuse not to exhaust all avenues to reunite you with your bag.

Unrecognizable Man With Bag And Suitcase Walking In Airport, Rear View

Fly Direct Where Possible

It usually is more expensive to fly nonstop to your destination, but the additional fare might be worth it if you want to avoid your luggage being delayed. Transferred bags account for the most mishandled luggage, according to the air travel communications company SITA.


Pro Tip: If a layover is necessary, opt for one that has at least a 90-minute window to ensure enough time for your bags to make it to your next plane.


Ship Your Luggage

This is definitely a luxury, but if you’re juggling multiple items or have your hands full with young ones, it might make sense. Speciality services like ShipSticks, LuggageForward, ShipGo or LugLess can solve this problem but so can the Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS. Just make sure you account for the travel time (five to seven days) and make arrangements with your hotel/vacation rental to let them know your luggage may arrive before you do. For a quick overview of rates, TSI Shipping has a good summary.