Lost luggage rules favor passengers, finally.
There are lost luggage rules that should be followed before traveling. There are rules when traveling and checking in baggage. And, finally, rules when luggage is lost, delayed or damaged.
Passengers who follow these lost luggage rules have far fewer lost and delayed baggage problems and get top compensation from the airlines.
Is there a way to limit the chances of losing luggage? And when luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel, is there anything passengers can do?
Here are the basic lost luggage rules:
Plan ahead for problems.
When you pack your carry-on bags for an extended trip, be sure to pack a change of clothing for one day as well as necessary toiletries (small, travel-size containers of liquid- and gel-based toiletries are now permitted on board the aircraft). For the most part, airlines manage to get lost luggage reunited with its owner within 24 hours, so this is your simplest insurance policy.
Take photos of what you pack in your checked baggage.
This way, any possible claims can be verified and passengers can get the maximum compensation possible.
This is a growing problem. The major international airline alliances will no longer transfer baggage from one alliance to a different alliance. In other words, American Airlines doesn’t transfer bags to Delta, nor do any of their alliance partners transfer baggage. British Airways even has rules that forbid them from transferring baggage from one BA flight to another if the two flights are ticketed separately. Check with the airline or a travel agent.
Pay attention to the destination.
Check all luggage tags to make sure luggage is checked through to the right airport. Believe it or not, this is the biggest reason that bags go astray. More and more travelers are now checking luggage at curbside, compounding the opportunity for tagging errors.
Check luggage in on time.
Today’s airports have luggage check-in rules that, theoretically, allow time for sorting of luggage and delivery to the correct aircraft. Don’t push the system. The smallest delay can have serious consequences when your luggage is cruising down the conveyor belt and selected for security examination with little time to spare.
Identify luggage inside and out.
Few travelers put identification and destination information inside their luggage, but this small effort will be amply rewarded if your luggage tag gets torn off, especially if you don’t know exactly what your luggage looks like — and many travelers do not (ask anyone who has stood in a lost-luggage line). So take a moment to note the luggage maker (TravelPro, Samsonite, Delsey, American Tourister, etc.). Also, take a good look at the color. Is it dark blue or is it black? Is that a stripe or a wavy line? Better yet, if you have a camera phone, take a picture of your bag before you hand it over.
Compensation for lost/delayed/damaged baggage is $3,500 per passenger.
Keep this amount in mind. The amount was increased back in 2014 through efforts led by Travelers United. The amount increases regularly based on the consumer price index inflation.
Check to see if your airline has a baggage app. Many times the airline app is useful to let travelers know exactly where their luggage has been misdirected.
If your luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel, spring into action. Many times, airline personnel will explain that the luggage has been located but will be delayed until the next flight. If you have the time, wait. If not, fill out the appropriate lost luggage forms at the airport and the airline will get the baggage to your home or hotel.
Ask what the airline can do for you.
Baggage service offices are full of surprising information. For example, if your luggage is going to be delayed for a while, some airlines in some locations will issue petty cash to purchase toiletries and sundries. Some carriers have amenity kits ready for passengers with luggage that will not be delivered for a day.
Carriers will provide coupons or instructions for the rental of special clothing and equipment, such as ski and snowboard outfits. I’ve heard stories of airlines picking up tuxedo rentals for special occasions. If your luggage is damaged, point out the damage and the airline will have your suitcase repaired. Some offices even have a supply of replacement suitcases in their back room, which can solve the problem on the spot. Remember, these allowances come from the total $3,800 compensation limit.
Virtually all airlines will require original receipts for each purchase made during delays. In order to keep questions minimal and get your refunds as soon as possible, keep purchases to the bare minimums. And, remember to keep receipts.
Make a claim.
In the rare case of truly lost luggage, the airline’s liability is limited to $3,800 for domestic flights. International liability limits are less generous. Some credit cards and travel insurance policies cover lost and damaged luggage — read the fine print. Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance normally cover your property, too, even when you are in transit on public transportation. Some very diligent travelers suggest travelers make a packing list that can be referenced if there is a need for insurance reimbursement.
Finding the correct baggage office is easy until it is not. The process for trips on a single airline is simple. However, when arriving on a different airline than the one you started with, file your claim with the last flight’s carrier. That airline must deliver your checked luggage, ultimately.
Lost luggage is a growing problem.
Passengers never know when they will find themselves watching an empty baggage carousel, so plan ahead, pack light and remember, it’s easy to buy a toothbrush and a new pair of socks at your destination. Plus, fair compensation is now available through the work of Travelers United and the Department of Transportation.
Whenever luggage is delayed by at least 24 hours, make sure to file a DOT complaint. It is easy and useful to both receiving service from the airline and to prevent future problems for all passengers. When a complaint is filed with DOT, it is forwarded to the appropriate airline. Receiving a complaint through the DOT system is far more effective than filing individual complaints directly to the airlines.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 12 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.