What to do if an airline loses your luggage

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What to do if an airline loses your luggage

There’s no worse feeling than when you’re standing at an airport baggage carousel waiting for your luggage to come down the chute — only to realize it’s not coming.

The reality is, your bag has been lost or delayed. This happened to me on a recent visit to Kenya. My baggage wasn't delivered until the last day of my trip. I learned a great deal about the ins and outs of handling such a frustrating situation, at significant personal expense.

Here’s what you need to know if an airline lost your luggage.

Don’t immediately go shopping

My initial response to losing my luggage was to head to a mall and purchase new items. Seems logical, right? Not so fast.

It’s not time for a shopping spree when you’re suddenly without luggage. Airlines only cover a limited amount of spending each day the luggage is missing. In my case, the airline capped their reimbursement at $50 per day and limited the total reimbursement to three days for a total of $150.

Bottom line: Depending on the airlines’ specific policy, you may end up eating some of the cost if you spend too much.

What is the airlines’ responsibility?

If a bag is simply late getting to the destination, the airline still bears some responsibility, said Christian Nielsen, chief legal officer at AirHelp, an air passenger rights company.

“Passengers should fill out a Property Irregularity Report claim before leaving the airport,” he said. “Include the case number of the bags and an itemized list of the contents and value of each item. The more detailed the claim, the better off passengers will be.”

Immediate steps

Hold onto receipts if you replace necessary items such as toiletries or underwear — things that were in your bags that you can’t do without, said Nielsen. Once you file a claim, you can get reimbursed for these expenses.

Assemble a detailed list of the contents of the lost bags. Any receipts or other proof that you have documenting the items in your bag will ultimately be helpful if and when you file a claim, said Nielsen.

Stay in close contact with the airline after filing a claim and during the baggage location process. Here's our guide to filing a claim.

Know your rights

Passengers are protected by two laws when it comes to their lost luggage.

Under U.S. national law the maximum compensation amount is $3,500 for domestic flights. Under the Montreal Convention, the maximum compensation amount is $1,525. The Montreal Convention covers passengers on international flights between more than 120 participating countries.

Here are some more tips for international travel.

In addition to domestic and international laws, airlines may also have their own policies surrounding lost luggage. This will be included in the Conditions of Carriage, which should be on an airlines’ website.

Travel insurance

Some travel insurance policies include baggage insurance that can protect your bags and possessions while you’re traveling, said Daniel Durazo, spokesman for Allianz Global Assistance USA.

“Your insurer can reimburse you, up to the maximum shown on the Confirmation of Coverage, for covered loss, theft or damage to your baggage and personal effects,” said Durazo.

Importantly, some policies even include baggage delay benefits, which provide reimbursement for essential items when your bags are delayed at least 24 hours. Here's why you need to get travel insurance to protect your trips this year.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko